(Senate - April 30, 2015)

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[Page S2560]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. LEAHY. Last week, the Senate considered a very important 
amendment to S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. 
Senator Collins and I offered amendment No. 290, the Runaway and 
Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, which was cosponsored by 
Senators Ayotte, Murkowski, Baldwin, Heitkamp, Shaheen, Bennet, Murphy, 
Merkley, Schatz, Klobuchar, and Booker.
  As we crafted this legislation, Senator Collins and I listened to the 
stories of survivors of human trafficking and the service providers who 
help them rebuild their lives. So many of these stories began with a 
homeless or runaway teen, scared and alone, and in need of a safe place 
to sleep. These young people were completely vulnerable, and 
traffickers preyed upon their desperation. Survivors and service 
providers underscored the importance of preventing human trafficking 
from happening in the first place by reauthorizing the critical 
programs funded by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.
  With their feedback in mind, we crafted S. 262, the Runaway and 
Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. We made important 
updates to ensure that homeless youth service providers are 
specifically trained to recognize victims of trafficking, address their 
unique traumas, and refer them to appropriate and caring services.
  Our bill will improve services for these vulnerable children in 
several ways. We lengthen the time that youth can stay in shelters from 
21 days to 30 days, so they are better able to find stable housing. 
Kids who are forced out of shelters and back onto the streets before 
they are ready are more likely to become victims of exploitation. Our 
bill prioritizes suicide prevention services and family reunification 
efforts and expands aftercare services. Providers know that such 
measures save children's lives and help them build a more stable future 
with families and trusted adults. Under our bill, service providers 
will collect data on the demographics of youth who are served by their 
shelters to help understand their needs and refine their services. It 
encourages grantees to examine the connection between youth who are 
victims of trafficking and any previous involvement in the foster care 
system or juvenile justice system in order to address the causes of 
youth homelessness. It further requires staff training on how to help 
youth apply for Federal student loans to help make college possible for 
youth so they can build a more stable future.
  The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act also 
includes a crucial nondiscrimination provision that would prevent 
discrimination against youth based on their race, color, religion, 
national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or 
disability. We offered this important legislation as amendment No. 290 
to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
  We were very disappointed that it received only 56 votes and failed 
to garner the 60 votes necessary for passage, but we are encouraged 
that it received a strong bipartisan vote from a majority of the 
Senate. I want to thank the 54 other Senators who voted for this 
legislation: Senators Ayotte, Baldwin, Bennet, Blumenthal, Booker, 
Boxer, Brown, Cantwell, Capito, Cardin, Carper, Casey, Coons, Donnelly, 
Durbin, Feinstein, Franken, Gillibrand, Heinrich, Heitkamp, Heller, 
Hirono, Kaine, King, Kirk, Klobuchar, Manchin, Markey, McCaskill, 
Menendez, Merkley, Mikulski, Murkowski, Murphy, Murray, Nelson, Paul, 
Peters, Portman, Reed, Reid, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, Shaheen, 
Stabenow, Sullivan, Tester, Toomey, Udall, Warner, Warren, Whitehouse, 
and Wyden. We appreciate their support and their dedication to working 
to prevent vulnerable youth from becoming victims of human trafficking.
  I especially applaud Senators Collins, Heitkamp, Ayotte, and 
Murkowski for their help fighting to get a vote on this amendment. 
Their leadership on this issue is exceptional, and the Senate is better 
for having them as Members.
  I also want to thank the tireless advocates who have worked so hard 
to help us improve the bill and urge support for the effort: Darla 
Bardine, with National Network for Youth; Jennifer Pike and David 
Stacy, with Human Rights Campaign; Cyndi Lauper and Gregory Lewis, with 
the True Colors Fund; Bridget Petruczok and Laura Durso, with the 
Center for American Progress; Melysa Sperber, with the Alliance to End 
Slavery and Trafficking; Holly Austin Smith, Jayne Bigelsen, and Kevin 
Ryan, with Covenant House; Calvin Smith and Kreig Pinkham, with the 
Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs; Erin 
Albright, with Give Way to Freedom; Griselda Vega, with Safe Horizon; 
Susan Burton, with the United Methodist Church; and the many others who 
provided us with their feedback as we drafted this important 
legislation. They are the true experts in this field and their insights 
and contributions were invaluable.
  This is not the end for the Runaway and Homeless Youth and 
Trafficking Prevention Act. As I have said time and again, we must 
protect the most vulnerable among us, and we must do everything we can 
to prevent the heinous crime of human trafficking from occurring. It is 
vital that we update and reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth 
Act. We will continue to fight to see the passage of the Runaway and 
Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.