By Doug Carlson
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Congress has just returned to Washington, with both parties jockeying for leverage on a sizable list of unfinished business. But with just three weeks before Congress again breaks, two House-passed bills require immediate attention in the Senate: one to clamp down on human trafficking and another to provide a meaningful check on the tobacco industry.
Last December, the House took a giant step toward eradicating the slavery of our day by passing the William Wilberforce Act nearly unanimously, 405-2; the Senate still has not considered the bill.
Nearly 150 years after the United States outlawed the horrendous practice of slavery, it still persists across our nation and around the world. This modern-day form of slavery preys primarily upon women and girls, who are bought and sold for sex slavery, and children, who are trafficked for labor slavery. An estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 17,500 of whom are brought into the United States, with little hope of escape.
The William Wilberforce Act would strengthen existing U.S. efforts to combat this modern-day scourge by giving the Justice Department greater latitude to work with states to aggressively target traffickers.
One of the principal obstacles to passage of this life-saving bill is Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). Citing concerns about federal intrusion in states’ affairs, Sen. Brownback has chosen to cosponsor a deeply flawed alternative bill with Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE). While respect for states’ rights is an important constitutional and practical concern, human trafficking is the slavery issue of our day. We are all grateful that the states’ rights argument didn’t prevail in the 19th century. And it shouldn’t prevail in this case either.
Women and girls are being enslaved and used as disposable property all across our nation.
It is obvious the states need help in combating this horrific practice. The William Wilberforce Act would provide that help. We hope you will call Sen. Brownback (202-224-6521) today and ask him to drop his support of the Biden trafficking bill and instead support the House-passed William Wilberforce Act.
A second bill hanging in the balance in the Senate would rescue countless other lives from the bondage of tobacco. As 400,000 Americans die annually due to tobacco-related illnesses and as 1,000 children become addicted to tobacco each day-largely as a result of multi-billion-dollar marketing schemes targeted precisely at impressionable youth-it is crystal clear that something must be done. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (S. 625) would address this death knell by giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of the sale, marketing and manufacturing of tobacco products, including the ability to regulate deadly and addictive ingredients, require larger and more informative health warnings, prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes, prevent tobacco sales to underage children and limit advertising and promotion of tobacco products. Once again, the House has pioneered on this legislation, passing it by a hefty margin, 326-102, on the eve of its summer recess. Again, the slow-moving Senate has not considered this bill either.
If you agree that the FDA should have an oversight role with tobacco, we urge you to contact your senators and ask them to cosponsor S. 625, if they are not yet among its cosponsors. Also ask them to urge Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring up the bill for a vote quickly.
The William Wilberforce Act and the Family Smoking Act have the real potential to save thousands of lives, but the days of this congressional session are numbered and quickly slipping away. Should the Senate choose to push these bills to the next Congress, both chambers would have to start from scratch. Too many lives are at stake to allow that to happen. The House has done its part. Now the Senate must do the same.