A controversial state Senate bill that would have increased penalties for "human trafficking" is dead. Sen. Justin Ready withdrew SB 904 just before a scheduled 1 p.m. hearing today. An aide in his office confirmed that the bill is withdrawn. It is after "crossover day," when Senate and House bills need to be aligned with each other for final passage, and because the companion House bill had not come out of committee, it made sense to withdraw the bill.
Some activists said the House bill, had it become law, would have hurt innocent people. It broadened the definition of "trafficker" so that even a person who gives a prostitute a ride to a hotel to help her find a safe place might face felony charges if the woman was then caught turning a trick.
"It was the right move to withdraw SB904.* We thank Senator Ready and the other legislators who looked more deeply into the potential for increased collateral consequences to victims, sex workers and vulnerable individuals," Jacqueline Robarge, who runs the human rights and harm reduction nonprofit Power Inside, said in an email after the hearing—which she was set to testify at—was canceled. "I agree with our colleagues who have reconsidered their support for SB904, including the Women's Law Center and the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, who recognize that 'the bill criminalizes activities that fall far beyond the widely accepted definition of human trafficking.'"
*An earlier version of this post contained a transcription error in Jacqueline Robarge's quote. It has been fixed. City Paper regrets the error.