Hate Crime, Trafficking, Bail Bills Advance

April 5, 2017

Rep. William Tong, House chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, praised his committee’s approval of several top priority bills, including legislation for increasing penalties for trafficking of humans, strengthening laws against hate crimes and reforming the judicial bail system.

The bills approved this week now go to the floor of the House of Representatives.

House Bill 7309 would create a new felony charge of commercial sex abuse of a minor and increases the punishment for sex trafficking. It also seeks to offer greater assistance to victims by directing state officials to develop a plan to provide mental health counseling, substance abuse and support programs.

“Human trafficking is a scourge on our society and must be fought with every available tool that we have,” Tong said.

The bill would increase the penalty for the crime of trafficking in persons to a Class A felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. It would require motel and hotel operators to obtain a form of identification before renting a room and it bars hourly rentals. It also mandates businesses such as farms, massage parlors, airports, emergency rooms and other public places to post signs about human trafficking so victims know where to go to get help.

Cracking down on hate crimes was another top priority of legislators. House Bill 5743, overwhelmingly approved by the Judiciary Committee, makes the commission of a hate crime a felony and increases potential penalties upon a conviction.

The bill would also make violence and threats based on gender prosecutable as a hate crime and make threats against houses of worship or other religious facilities a more serious felony charge.

“Hate crimes are despicable,” Tong said. “When someone becomes the target of a crime because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, it should be viewed as an attack on everyone in our society.”

The Judiciary Committee also approved HB 7044, An Act Concerning Pretrial Justice Reform, to help break the cycle of crime and poverty. The bill would make the Connecticut bail system a more just and equitable procedure by taking into account public safety risk rather than a defendant’s ability to pay.

“Being poor should never be a crime, and this bill is a start to fixing a current system that penalizes poverty,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement.

The legislation would bar judges from imposing cash-only bail, a practice that essentially denies bail to poor and moderate-income defendants. It also restricts judges from setting bail in most misdemeanor cases, unless the charges stem from family violence or the judge finds the defendant is a flight risk based on factors such as a previous record of failing to appear in court.

HB 7257, An Act Concerning Grand Jury Reform, was also approved. The goal of the bill is to reform the investigatory grand jury system to provide for its more efficient operation and to facilitate the effective investigation of criminal conduct involving abuse of governmental authority and financial fraud.