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Consensus on Anti-Trafficking Bill Dissolves Amid Partisan Clashes

Consensus on Anti-Trafficking Bill Dissolves Amid Partisan Clashes

April 30, 2012 — Reauthorization of a law (HR 2830) to combat human trafficking has been delayed by partisan disputes about HHS' decision not to renew a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CQ Weekly reports. The law expired last fall, although funding for anti-trafficking programs is guaranteed until the end of fiscal 2012, according to CQ Weekly (Cadei, CQ Weekly, 4/30).

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, first approved in 2000, provides grants to organizations to fight human trafficking, supports law enforcement and funds a hotline that received more than 11,000 calls in fiscal year 2010. The measure was reauthorized three times with bipartisan support before expiring late last year (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/11).

According to CQ Weekly, reauthorization bills were introduced in the House and Senate last fall and received bipartisan approval from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Sept. 30, HHS notified the Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services division that it was not renewing the group's grant to provide assistance to trafficking survivors because of a "strong preference" for applicants that provide comprehensive health care services, including family planning and reproductive health care.

This decision outraged the bishops and conservative lawmakers, who withdrew their support from the bill and argued that the Obama administration was pursuing an "anti-religion" agenda, according to CQ Weekly.

On Dec. 7, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the bill's original sponsor in the House, introduced a new version that would add a "conscience" clause for religious groups and transfer the trafficking grants program from HHS to the Justice Department. The legislation has not been marked up.

Anti-trafficking advocates said they are frustrated that political fights are interfering with the process. "I think there's a lack of attempt to reconcile differences," Cory Smith, senior policy adviser for the Alliance To End Slavery and Trafficking, said (CQ Weekly, 4/30).