House sends human trafficking bill to Obama

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The House sent legislation to combat human trafficking to President Obama's desk on Tuesday after a protracted debate in the Senate over abortion.

Passage came easily on a vote of 420-3. But the bill consumed weeks of floor time in the Senate and delayed Attorney General Loretta Lynch's confirmation vote due to a dispute over whether it would expand abortion restrictions.

The Senate eventually passed the measure last month by a vote of 99-0.

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The legislation would create a designated fund for victims of sex trafficking and includes the language of ten bills passed by the House earlier this year. Provisions incorporated from the House bills include imposing a penalty on individuals who sell advertisements to exploit trafficking victims and giving states preference for federal grants if they establish "safe harbor" laws for trafficked children.

"I truly believe this bill will save lives," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who introduced the original House version of the measure with Rep. Ted PoeTed PoeCameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in Democrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Congress should stop government hacking and protect the Fourth Amendment MORE (R-Texas).

Poe noted that slavery, although banned by the Constitution's 13th Amendment, remained a national problem in the form of human trafficking.

"This ugly scourge has risen its head again one more time," Poe said. "America can no longer deny the inconvenient truth of sex trafficking."

Senate Democrats blocked an earlier version of the bill that they warned would expand the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions. 

Republicans questioned why Democrats didn't bring up the issue before the bill was easily approved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats accused the GOP of not being transparent with them about the contents of the legislation, a charge that Republicans denied.

The office of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDon’t let Congress legislate science The Hill's 12:30 Report Clinton’s 9 most likely VP picks MORE (D-Minn.), one of the bill's sponsors, later admitted that an aide knew about the abortion language.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board Senate Dems: No August break without Zika deal MORE (R-Ky.) refused to allow a vote on Lynch's nomination until senators found a way to pass the human trafficking bill despite pressure from Democrats and the Obama administration to keep the issues separate. Lynch's nomination consequently earned the distinction of one of the longest confirmation delays in recent history.

Senators eventually settled on a compromise that requires money for the victims' fund to come from criminal fines and money previously appropriated by Congress.

- Jordain Carney contributed.

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