Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking and Opioid Addiction

I was disturbed to hear Senator McConnell’s remarks on the floor last week questioning my commitment to supporting survivors of human trafficking.  I think anyone who follows our efforts to stop this terrible crime knows the ridiculousness of that claim.  I was particularly surprised to hear it coming from Senator McConnell who, along with Senator Grassley and other Republicans, voted against reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Violence Against Women Act – two watershed laws that changed the way this country approaches human trafficking and other violence against women.

I am deeply committed to supporting victims of crime, and have been for my entire career.  I started out as a prosecutor and I have never forgotten the terrible crime scenes I saw.  Those images serve as a constant reminder of how important it is to do all we can to support survivors and their families.  And those efforts must include a commitment to providing real money – not just lip service - to support survivors as they rebuild their lives.

That is why last Congress, as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I led the effort to reauthorize the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  That historic, bipartisan legislation - and the funds it authorized – signaled our country’s commitment to ending all forms of human trafficking, both here at home and around the world.  I also led the effort to pass the historic Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Act, which included vital updates to help women on college campuses, tribal lands, immigrants, and new protections for those in the LGBT community to ensure that every victim in need gets the lifesaving services they deserve.  These impactful laws were enacted three years ago and they are making a real difference in peoples’ lives.  Senator McConnell may have forgotten about what we did in 2013 to greatly expand protections for victims of violence, but I have not.  I will continue fighting for our most vulnerable populations and work across the aisle to make real progress.

I was glad to see the Senate return its attention to the issue of human trafficking this Congress with the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which I supported.  However, the Senate should have also passed my bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, critical legislation to prevent trafficking in the first place.  That bill would authorize funding to provide shelter and services for some of our most vulnerable kids, kids who are literally walking prey for traffickers.  Unfortunately, Senators McConnell and Grassley opposed that effort.  Republicans cannot pretend to stand up for the rights of trafficking victims while leaving these children behind.  They had a chance to help and they said no.  That is not leadership.

Senator McConnell also suggested that I had somehow ignored the opioid epidemic gripping our nation and my state of Vermont, and let the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act “languish” in the Judiciary Committee.  Again, anyone who knows my record is aware of how focused I am on helping ensure that communities are getting the resources they need to respond to this devastating problem.  I have been holding Senate Judiciary Committee field hearings on heroin and opioid addiction since 2008.  Long before the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was introduced, I worked to deliver funding – real dollars - for anti-heroin task forces across the country.  And when we did first introduce the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in September 2014, I was an original cosponsor of that legislation and have worked tirelessly to see it enacted.

At the same time, I have worked to change the focus from imposing harsh and arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences on those who abuse drugs to actually providing treatment.  I know that bumper sticker slogans and the “war on drugs” are failed approaches.

It is unfortunate that Republicans in the Senate are unwilling to put real money behind CARA to ensure its programs will succeed.  Just last week, Senator McConnell led the Republican opposition to Senator Shaheen’s amendment that would have provided emergency supplemental appropriations.  Ending this crisis is going to cost money, and it is disappointing that Senator McConnell and other Republicans are not willing to dedicate the resources that are so desperately needed by law enforcement and health care providers throughout this county.

Passing one bill in one Congress is not the answer to addressing the very serious problems facing our communities.  It takes a sustained commitment.  I am proud of my record to support victims of human trafficking and communities struggling to respond to the opioid epidemic.  Unfortunately, too often, Republicans have blocked efforts to provide real funding for these priorities.  I will not stop working until we are able to end these scourges.

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