LINCOLN–Sex trafficking victims could have their criminal records set aside under a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 9.
LB 1132, introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, would provide a system for victims to be absolved of criminal records including charges like prostitution, petty theft and drug abuse.
Pansing Brooks cited a study that said 91 percent of victims nationwide have a criminal record. Criminal records also prohibited 57 percent of individuals from finding a place to sleep at night. A criminal record can also prohibit such victims from being able to find a job after being involved in sex trafficking.
The bill would first require individuals to prove they were a victim of human trafficking. Pansing Brooks said that can be done by tracing phone calls, through a trafficker’s arrest or through other methods. Such individuals would then have to prove they were charged with a crime during their victimization that they otherwise would not have committed.
If an individual can achieve the two-part process the criminal record would be expunged or set aside. The general public would not have access to it, but law enforcement officials would.
Pansing Brooks said 34 states have already passed similar legislation with 29 states passing more expansive legislation than she introduced.
Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln, was concerned that individuals may try to abuse the system to get their records cleared even if they weren’t involved in human trafficking.
Pansing Brooks said she partnered with other states and there has not been a single case with a false report of human trafficking so far.
“It’s our duty as lawmakers to make sure every citizen has an equitable chance at living a decent life,” Pansing Brooks said.
Meghan Malik testified on behalf of the Women’s Fund of Omaha in support of LB 1132.
Malik cited a study from Creighton University that found over 900 individuals are trafficked every month online in Nebraska.
“We must pass a law that does not put undue burden on victims,” Malik said.
Sally Richardson, a sex trafficking victim from South Dakota who has lobbied successfully for related laws there, told the committee she was trafficked by her ex-husband and convicted of crimes. Richardson said the bill would serve individuals like herself.
Douglas County Sheriff Timothy Dunning also testified on behalf of the bill.
“This is definitely an issue we see here in Nebraska,” Dunning said. “This is not an Omaha problem but a Nebraska problem no matter how small your community may seem.”
Shawn Renner was the only individual to provide opposing testimony. Renner is a lawyer in Lincoln and represented news media.
Renner said he was concerned with the expunging and sealing of criminal records because the media use those records in their reporting. He said he was also concerned that hearings could be held in a closed court proceeding, which he said would be unconstitutional.
Pansing Brooks said there is a special provision that allows closed courtrooms in special situations and she believes sex trafficking would be one of them.
“We need to be protecting the people we were arresting previously,” Pansing Brooks said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.