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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bills target human trafficking, texting drivers, ammo for convicts

The Record
Bills cracking down on human trafficking, drivers who use cellphones and possession of ammunition by convicted criminals all passed Assembly committees on Thursday. Here are highlights of Thursday’s hearings:
* Human trafficking
The trafficking legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, imposes a $25,000 fine for anyone convicted of a crime associated with human trafficking, including allowing it to occur.
Such offenses often carry long prison terms, but the fines would be new. Huttle wants to use the money to fund programs that help victims and dissuade human traffickers from reoffending.
The assemblywoman has argued the legislation is needed ahead of the 2014 Super Bowl, which will be held at the MetLife Stadium. Victim advocates say prostitution and human trafficking are likely to increase whenever large numbers of people gather for an event, although specific statistics are difficult to find.
"Until recently, human trafficking has remained largely in the shadows of society," Huttle said in a statement. "Victims are often children and vulnerable women who are too afraid and dependent on traffickers to break their silence and seek help."
* Driver cellphone use
The Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee passed a bill that toughens penalties for using a cellphone while driving.
The legislation – whose primary sponsors include several Democrats and one Republican, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz from Union County – would double the fine for drivers who text or talk on a handheld device.
The current penalty is $100 per violation, but the bill approved Thursday would impose a $200 fine for the first offense, $400 for a second offense and $600 for subsequent violations.
A judge could also suspend a person’s driver’s license for 90 days after three violations.
"Cellphone use while driving, particularly texting, has become almost an epidemic these days," Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, D-Essex, said in a statement. "It’s our hope that the increased fines and suspension imposed by this bill will act as a further deterrent to these dangerous habits."
The legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate in June. It next heads for a vote by the full Assembly.
* Criminals buying ammunition
A bill prohibiting some convicted criminals from buying or possessing ammunition also made it through the Law and Public Safety Committee on Thursday.
Two Bergen County assemblymen are pushing for the bill, citing recent high-profile shootings from around the country.
Under the legislation, certain criminals would face up to 18 months in prison and $10,000 in fines if they buy or possess ammunition. The law would apply to anyone convicted of arson, homicide, robbery, sexual assault or a range of other crimes.
Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood, suggested the bill was inspired by "an explosion of gun violence in our country in recent months," citing a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July and another at a Pathmark in Old Bridge in August.
"By cracking down on ammunition sales, we can make it much harder for criminals to obtain the very thing that makes their weapons so deadly," Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Maywood, said in a statement.
— Michael Linhorst and Anthony Campisi

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