PHOENIX - An Arizona House committee on Thursday unanimously gave its approval to a sweeping bill targeting pimps who traffic minors for sex, a proposal championed by the wife of Sen. John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer.
The bill also toughens penalties for trafficking adults and targets businesses such as massage parlors and escort services that advertise on websites. The proposal would require advertisers to post their license number and have written permission of any women they depict and evidence that they're not minors.
Cindy McCain said the bill would put Arizona at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking by imposing harsh penalties for pimps, and takes a step toward holding websites that advertise girls and women for sex accountable.
"This is a phenomenal start to this and it brings Arizona from the absolute depths of having no legislation at all that even deals with this in a way to a very comprehensive leader on this issue," McCain said. "We will be top in the nation if not the top on this once we get this passed."
McCain has been championing human trafficking legislation not only in Arizona but in other states, especially ones that host major events such as the Super Bowl that attract traveling pimps and prostitutes. She said the proposed Arizona law will help close off the state to those traffickers.
"And that's important, because if we can get the corridor stopped by these traffickers and then take care of the few states that are left at the inside of the western corridor, this (state's) going's to be a flyover country with regards to this issue," McCain said.
House Bill 2454, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, increases the minimum penalties for a child prostitution conviction to 10 years to 24 years in prison. It also makes pimping a child or adult a racketeering offense that will allow asset seizures.
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who sat with McCain on the human trafficking task force Brewer created last year, said he's fully supportive of the penalties.
"I'm of the opinion that an adult who has sex with a minor should be put in prison for the rest of his life," Woods said. "So I don't really think that this is too harsh. If you want to see harsh, if I ruled the world, that would be harsh."
Democrats and Republicans on the committee fully backed the bill, although some raised concerns that the advertising restrictions could face Constitutional challenges.
"I know there's going to be a challenge to some of the freedoms of speech issues, but I think it's a fight we can win," said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale. Others were concerned that victims weren't given immunity.
Woods said the advertising restrictions were reasonable and narrowly drafted to avoid tripping over the First Amendment.
"People across the country have been outraged by the ongoing use of the Internet to traffic children for sex acts," Woods said. "There's a variety of websites that rake in millions of dollars by prostituting women in general, which is illegal, and children in particular, which is especially reprehensible.
"What this bill does, it's narrowly tailored to try to deal with a legitimate state interest in making sure that children aren't exploited and everything in these ads are on the up and up."
The bill now moves to the full House after a routine review in another committee.