Politics

November 8, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Democrats fumble ball on human trafficking

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

AIRING IT OUT

Tune in to NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. Friday to hear columnist Bill Nemitz talk about this column and other issues.

Lost in all of this, of course, is the central question: Is human trafficking in fact a problem in Maine? And if so, how do we best go about dealing with it?

Enter Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and would have given Volk’s bill the green light last week if he’d had a vote.

“The bill should come forward so the committee has an opportunity to explore the evidence,” said Dion, whose years as Cumberland County’s sheriff taught him that forceful coercion can be a factor whenever and wherever sex trafficking occurs.

As for the political dust-up, Dion wisely noted, “I think one of the toughest jobs in legislating is looking at the presented ideas and not marrying them to the individual bringing it forward. We’re not voting on motive. We’re voting on the policy question that the representative is bringing to us.”

In other words, cue the mea culpas. Thursday morning, Democratic Chairman Grant issued a public apology to Volk for his “ill-conceived remarks” and for speaking out before he had a firm grasp of the issue.

Since the MPBN interview, Grant said, “I have looked into the matter further and now understand that the issue of human trafficking does occur in all 50 states, including Maine. ... I should have done my homework first.”

On the heels of that came a flurry of prepared statements from the Democratic legislative leaders, all backpedaling hard enough to qualify for the World Unicycle Championship.

“We’ve heard quite a bit about the merits of this proposal since the Legislative Council’s initial meeting on second-session bills,” noted House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “We welcome the input and we’re looking forward to hearing from Rep. Volk in person when we hear appeals this month.”

Echoed Senate President Alfond: “I certainly support the merits of this bill to help victims rebuild their lives. Since our initial vote, Rep. Volk has made a very strong case for the sense of urgency and need for this bill. ... The Legislature has a process for approving, denying and appealing bills, and Rep. Volk is doing exactly what she should be doing by making the best case she can.”

Translation: A bill viewed with partisan suspicion only days ago is now well on its way to becoming one of the highest-profile pieces of legislation in the upcoming session.

Whether that’s warranted – Maine’s Uniform Crime reports show prostitution arrests statewide rising from 26 in 2011 to 56 last year – will be fodder for the committee hearing. A hearing that Rep. Volk, not to mention the people for whom she’s advocating, deserved all along.

Noted Volk, “If they had just approved it, we wouldn’t be talking about it right now.”

Nor would the Democrats have politics on their face.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

Twitter: @billnemitz

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