A slew of new laws designed to counter human-trafficking took effect Thursday in Washington, including penalties as high as $10,000 for promoting prostitution and $5,000 for paying customers.
They were among the roughly 220 laws added to the books this week after their adoption by lawmakers earlier this year.
A federal judge has put the sex-trafficking legislations controversial centerpiece targeting online want ads for sexual services in limbo. But other pieces taking effect give hope to activists and bill sponsors that a dent can be made in the human-trafficking business.
Among them is a law letting authorities seize and obtain a forfeiture of property used by offenders to further their sex-trafficking crimes, including automobiles. Another lets people convicted of prostitution clear their names if they can prove they were forced into it by sex-traffickers.
I think we have the best laws in the nation. It will make a difference if our law enforcement enforces them, said Rose Gundersen of Thurston County, who leads Engage Washington and, along with other activists, helped support action this year. It will take (community) organizing to get police to recognize it is a problem.
Gundersen said her group is now working with others in a Thurston County alliance that will try to raise public awareness of the law and the need for enforcement. It plans a meeting June 21 in Lacey to start the work.
Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry that exploits the most vulnerable, especially minors, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle said. I hope other states can follow Washingtons lead.
Kohl-Welles co-sponsored with Republican Sen. Jerome Delvin of Richland the centerpiece of the trafficking reform, which makes it illegal to advertise sex services involving a minor.
Backpage.com, which operates an online clearinghouse for escorts, is challenging that piece of the package, arguing that it is trumped by federal statute.
Federal Judge Ricardo Martinez issued a temporary restraining order earlier this week that keeps that law from taking effect, spokesman Dan Sytman of the state Attorney Generals Office said. A preliminary injunction could be considered June 15, delaying the law even longer, Sytman said.
Another new law put on hold this week was the legalization of same-sex marriage. Opponents filed an estimated 242,000 signatures to subject the law to a public vote on the November ballot.
Among the laws that did take effect:
Teacher evaluations: Improvement in student test scores will be included on a list of factors that principals use to assess teachers. The measure details how a poor evaluation could lead to a teacher being put on probation or being terminated. School districts are required to start implementing the new system no later than the 2013-14 school year and complete implementation two years later.
Bank tax repeal: A longtime tax exemption for the first-mortgage earnings of major banks is gone because of Senate Bill 6635, the one significant tax measure of the year. But the state wont see much new money because the legislation also re-enacts a tax break for purchases of equipment for data centers that have been springing up in Eastern Washington. It also exempts craft distilleries from a 17 percent license fee for spirits sales, exempts public-owned cargo cranes and docks from the leasehold excise tax, and equalizes the tax rate for newspapers online and print ads.
Correctional officer uniforms: HB 2346 bars Correctional Industries from making uniforms for prison staffers and lets guards buy uniforms from outside the system. The in-house uniforms have employed up to 100 inmates and eight staffers. Republican Rep. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla sponsored the bill after officers had concerns about wearing uniforms made by the people they supervise. There were accusations about women staffers uniforms being made with buttons spaced too far apart or slacks fitting too tightly.
Medicaid fraud: Senate Bill 5978 increases penalties for false claims and sets up a provision that lets third parties, dubbed bounty hunters by critics, file third-party claims against suspect billers. Successful cases let the filers receive a share of the recovered money. Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug and Democratic Sen. Karen Keiser sponsored the bill to curb expenses in Medicaid, which costs the state and federal government about $8.8 billion per biennium.
Campaign ad disclosure: House Bill 2499 closes a loophole that let independent expenditure groups avoid listing donors to ads. Now any group that spends more than $1,000 on a political ad about a ballot measure must list the names of its five largest donors, provided they gave more than $700 during the year before the ad appears.
Spring-blade knives: HB 2347, which Republican Rep. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup introduced, lets firefighters, police and military personnel carry or transport the knives that are illegal for the general public to have. The bill also allows the manufacture and transport of knives and was touted as a way to let knife-makers operate in Washington while selling the products in states where the knives are legal.
Veterans raffle: Senate Bill 6059, which was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Steve Conway of Tacoma, lets the Lottery conduct a Veterans Day raffle that raises money for the Veterans Innovation Program.
Tax break for films: Senate Bill 5539 restores a tax credit for makers of motion pictures in Washington. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles sponsored the measure to reinstate the credit program, which is limited to a $3.5 million cost per year.
Facial recognition ID: SB 6150 lets the Department of Licensing issue ID cards and licenses containing biometric data such as facial recognition matching. The measure was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island.
Biomass: SB 5575 changes definitions of renewable energy in Initiative 937, which voters approved in 2006, to include certain biomass power. The measure from Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, and Sen. Delvin lets energy from some plants in operation before 1999 be counted as renewable including from yard waste, pulp and wood processing, animal manure, and liquors from algae. Weyerhaeusers Longview plant is among the beneficiaries.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog
The Associated Press contributed to this report.