April 23, 2015 — The Senate on Wednesday voted 99-0 to pass a human trafficking bill (S 178) after reaching a compromise on antiabortion-rights language included in the legislation, The Hill's "Floor Action" reports (Carney, "Floor Action," The Hill, 4/22).
The bill's approval clears the way for the Senate on Thursday to vote to confirm U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, who was nominated more than five months ago (Peterson/Barrett, Wall Street Journal, 4/23). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly said the full Senate would not hold a confirmation vote until after the passage of the human trafficking measure.
Background on Human Trafficking Measure
The underlying legislation, proposed by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), includes various provisions aimed at curtailing human trafficking and targeting perpetrators. However, a dispute erupted over language from antiabortion-rights legislators that had been included in the bill.
Supporters of abortion rights who objected to the language said it would have expanded 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 had refused to remove the language from the bill.
Under negotiations led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cornyn, the survivors' compensation fund would include two separate pools of money. One pool, with funds collected from criminal fines, would be deposited into the Department of the Treasury's general fund to provide survivors with non-medical services.
Meanwhile, a separate pool of money to provide health care services to survivors would come from funds that had previously been appropriated for community health centers. Such funds are already subject to the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment includes exemptions for instances of rape and incest and endangerment to the woman's life.
Senate Approves, Rejects Amendments
The Senate on Wednesday also voted on several amendments to the legislation (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/22).
The Senate approved a couple of amendments, including one that requires treating trafficked minors as victims of a crime (Amundson, Forum News Service/Duluth News Tribune, 4/22). Meanwhile, lawmakers voted 43-55 to reject another amendment, proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that would have removed completely the Hyde language from the measure (Bendery, Huffington Post, 4/22).