COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate OK'd legislation June 3 to increase criminal penalties against those who solicit minors for sex.
House Bill 130 passed on a unanimous vote of 33-0 and heads back to the Ohio House for consideration of changes made by senators.
The legislation is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at combatting human trafficking.
Earlier law changes increased penalties against those who force men and women into sex or labor.
"We should be serious about these problems," said Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who serves as chairman of the committee that considered the new bill, said during the June 3 floor session.
"We have done now Chapter 3 in our effort to combat this scourge," Seitz said, "and hopefully we will have gotten it right this time and work with our prosecutors and our local law enforcement to end for all time the trafficking in persons and the modern day sexual slavery that has unfortunately been used to enslave too many of our children."
Among other provisions, HB 130 would make soliciting a minor for sex for pay a felony crime rather than a misdemeanor, prohibit sex-for-hire advertisements and place limitations on other ads, including those for massage services.
The bill also would levy tougher sanctions for soliciting sex for money regardless of whether perpetrators are aware that their targets are minors or adults.
Other changes include allowing closed-circuit testimony from minor victims as part of human trafficking legal proceedings and extending the statute of limitations on related crimes.
Sen. Capri Cafaro (D-Hubbard) supported the overall legislation and specific language to ban sex-for-hire references on massage business advertisements.
Cafaro said 41 percent of the state's massage parlors are located in her district, mostly in Trumbull County. Some of those businesses have been raided for illegal sex-related activities.
"This, I believe, is a step in the right direction, providing some tools to our law enforcement to be able to go after these folks that are obviously trying to shroud what is illicit and illegal activity and human trafficking activities under the guise of being a legitimate business, of which it is not," Cafaro said.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.