The Right View: Scarborough lawmaker's work belies 'GOP War on Women'

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Does the Democrat-manufactured “Republican War on Women” make anyone else’s eyeballs roll dangerously high up into their sockets?

Personally, I’m pretty tired of being told I’m a victim. Especially when there are real victims out there who need real help. It’s pretty insulting, actually.

Just look at the recent headline that stunned the world regarding the kidnapping in Nigeria by radical Islamic terrorists of school girls, who were to be sold into the human sex trade. I don’t know about you, but that fits my definition of “victim.”

Republican state Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough felt the calling, she said, as a Christian, to help victims of sex trafficking when she learned this was an issue here at home last fall. This apparently sent some kind of tsunami-like shock wave around Augusta.

As if a human female, who happens to be a legislator, who happens to have an R after her name, was incapable of feeling the need to do something when having her eyes opened to a terrible problem.

So despite the fact that Republicans are not supposed to care about women, victims, or anything related to human suffering, I sat down to talk with her anyway about her recent bill, L.D. 1730, “An Act to Assist Victims of Human Trafficking.”

As an issue that has only recently begun to appear on the radar of journalists, lawmakers and the public at large, the idea began to take shape last year, Volk said, when members of her church community became involved in The Maine Freedom Project, which was hosting the third annual Freedom Gala to raise funds and awareness for Love146, an organization that works to end child trafficking and exploitation around the world.

Around that same time, an August 2013 article by Seth Koenig in the Bangor Daily News, discussing Maine’s laws surrounding sex trafficking, caught Volk’s attention. After reading it, she realized that as a legislator, she had a platform to act.

Volk started by wanting to know where Maine ranked in its treatment of sex trafficking crimes, and what more could be done. So she contacted the Washington, D.C.-based organization, The Polaris Project, cited in Koenig’s article.

Volk learned that in Maine there existed a need to help victims of the sex trade who are further victimized by being forced into prostitution (boys, girls and women, Volk pointed out), and discovered that Maine lacked the authority to vacate the prostitution convictions of these individuals.

In her diligence in investigating this issue and through the first draft of her bill, she learned that there were some constitutional issues pertaining to separation of powers that would make the vacating of such convictions very difficult, even perhaps impossible, to attain. This meant her legislation would have to protect victims earlier in the process, before they had prostitution convictions on their records.

At the time of an arrest, if it could be proved that the individual was already a victim of the sex trade, no prostitution charge would be made. This would involve education of the law enforcement community, and a plan to be put in place that would take effect at the level of arresting officers. Volk thought that was the way to be most effective.

Further, she wanted to set up a victim’s compensation fund, paid for with fines by persons convicted of aggravated sex trafficking, which she was able to do. It was included in the final draft of her bill.

At first pass to get her legislation introduced, Volk’s bill was one of nearly 300 bills that were rejected by the Legislative Council. That body, chaired by House Speaker Mark W. Eves, D-North Berwick, is charged with screening bills for the second regular, and shorter, session of the Legislature.

At the time, Volk told Steve Robinson of The Maine Wire, “I’m disappointed that the bill was killed along party lines because I thought it was a chance for all of us to work together on an issue that, if it impacts one life, is one life too many,” she said. “I had been contacted by women from both parties about cosponsoring the bill and there seemed to be a lot of interest, but for some reason Democratic leadership did not consider it a priority.”

“Democratic leadership approved many relatively minor bills, and if helping the women who fall victim to sex trafficking isn’t a priority, I don’t know what is,” Volk said.

I reached out to Eves’ office for an explanation. Jodi Quintero, Eves’ spokeswoman, said that in the second legislative session, as is outlined in Maine’s Constitution, only emergency and budget-related bills are allowed to be introduced.

According to Quintero, “Speaker Eves encouraged Rep. Volk to appeal the initial rejection of the introduction of her bill so more could be heard about it.”

Volk did so, and after her testimony before the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20, Volk received unanimous support for her bill from both sides of the legislative aisle. L.D. 1730 was signed into law as emergency legislation by Gov. Paul LePage on April 10.

Republicans may just have hearts that beat in their chests, after all. But don’t tell anyone. That would destroy the narrative coming from the left.

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Julie McDonald is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, and chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth Republican Committee. Her column appears every other week.