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Senate Remains at Impasse Over Human Trafficking Bill

Senate Remains at Impasse Over Human Trafficking Bill

March 20, 2015 — Senate lawmakers remain at an impasse over a human trafficking bill (S 178) that has failed several procedural votes, including on Thursday, because of disagreements over an antiabortion-rights provision in the legislation, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Werner, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/19).

The Senate on Thursday adjourned until Monday. According to National Journal, the chamber will not hold another vote on the trafficking measure until after it considers the budget, which is next on lawmakers' agenda (Fox [1], National Journal, 3/19).

Background on Trafficking Bill Dispute, Failed Votes

The legislation includes various provisions aimed at curtailing human trafficking and targeting perpetrators. However, a dispute erupted over language from antiabortion-rights legislators that is included in the bill.

Supporters of abortion rights who object to the language said it would expand existing restrictions on abortion funding by permanently applying the Hyde Amendment to a survivors' compensation fund, which is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who oppose abortion rights have so far refused to remove the language from the bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/18).

A vote to end debate on the bill, which needed 60 votes to pass, failed on Thursday 56-42. Similar procedural votes also failed on Tuesday and Wednesday (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/19).

Potential Solutions Floated, Rejected

Meanwhile, lawmakers this week unveiled two separate proposals in an attempt to settle disagreements over the antiabortion-rights measure in the bill, National Journal reports.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) proposed funding the bill through the congressional appropriations process while stripping out the antiabortion-rights language from the bill. According to National Journal, the bill does not have support from party leadership, and having the measure's spending be subject to the appropriations process would mean the Hyde Amendment would still come into play.

However, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Thursday said he was opposed to the plan. He said, "Anything that erodes the Hyde Amendment, I cannot support (Fox [1], National Journal, 3/19). Cornyn is the bill's author and the Senate Majority Whip (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/11).

Cornyn on Thursday also released a proposal that would fund the bill through the appropriations process. However, his plan would keep the antiabortion-rights language.

Lawmakers who support abortion rights rejected Cornyn's plan (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/19). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, "I want that [antiabortion-rights] language out," adding, "There is a compromise possible, take [the antiabortion-rights language] out."

Similarly, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said of Cornyn's proposal, "I don't think that will work" (Fox [2], National Journal, 3/19).

AG Confirmation Vote

Senate lawmakers also have a two-week recess that is slated to begin at the end of March (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/18). As a result, the Senate appears unlikely to hold a vote to confirm U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until at least mid-April, according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/19).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that the Senate will not hold a confirmation vote for Lynch until the chamber passes the human trafficking bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/18).