Lawmakers push for standalone trafficking bill

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ALBANY—In a break with the strategy pushed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and many of her Democratic colleagues, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin wants to split anti-human trafficking provisions from the 10-point Women's Equality Act and bring them to an immediate vote.

Flanked by Republicans and Democrats and joined by survivors and their advocates, Paulin said she did not believe the Women's Equality Act would ever pass the State Senate in an omnibus form. That chamber is controlled by Republicans along with the Independent Democratic Conference, and many G.O.P. senators have expressed their opposition to abortion law tweaks in the omnibus bill.

Last year, the Senate passed nine component bills and the Assembly advanced the omnibus bill. Women's groups flipped their message several times, at first pushing the Senate for the omnibus bill and then asking the Assembly to vote on individual components.

“I can't speak for my colleagues, but I know we're not going to be doing the 10-point bill in the Senate … so I'm here to say I want this bill as a standalone, and right now it's caught up in the politics,” Paulin, who represents Scarsdale, said. “We all know it's the reproductive rights portion of the bill that is the only portion the Senate is not going to pass, and if there were more pro-choice senators, perhaps we could do this as an omnibus.”

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“I don't know why we would couple or link the bills together,” she continued. “It makes no sense to me.”

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther added, “The important thing is that we get from point A to point B … sometimes we stand together, but sometimes we have to stand alone.”

The anti-trafficking measure in question would increase the penalty for sex trafficking to a class B felony, make sex trafficking an affirmative offense for women charged with prostitution and eliminate the word “prostitute” from the state's penal code in an effort to erase stigma.

Several speakers at the Tuesday morning press conference said the issue has gained new prominence with the kidnapping of 200 girls by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

“We all look with horror to what has happened in Nigeria,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican. “One by one, that is happening every single day in New York City, the state and the country.”

Cuomo reiterated his support for the 10-point Women's Equality Act in his State of the State presentation as well as a recent speech to the Democratic Rural Conference. The omnibus bill already passed the Democrat-dominated State Assembly earlier this year.