DES MOINES (AP) — An effort to toughen penalties for pimping involving minors and to aid minors forced into prostitution won unanimous support Tuesday in the Iowa House.
The House voted 98-0 in favor of the measure. The legislation now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, said the bill was designed with the protection of children in mind for a widespread issue few in Iowa fully understand.
“This issue is likely more prevalent than what we are willing to admit,” he said.
Pimping penalties for any case involving a minor would increase from a class “D’’ felony to a class “C’’ felony under the bill.
The bill would also grant county attorneys the option of referring a minor who they suspect has been forced into prostitution to Iowa’s Department of Human Services as a child in need of assistance. All instances of prostitution are punishable as aggravated misdemeanors under current law.
Anyone who had previously been prosecuted or convicted of prostitution as a minor would have the offense removed from his or her record, allowing for “the opportunity to have a fresh start and a clean slate,” said Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City.
Lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill that is intended to aid prosecutors by making it easier to intercept electronic communication.
“We need to do something about it, and this amendment helps to solve work on that problem,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City. “We need to take action and stop ignoring what’s going on in our state.”
Heartsill agreed, saying the legislation addresses a statewide issue that can no longer be disregarded.
“The sexual exploitation of minors is an issue that we can no longer afford to ignore,” he said. “We will be remiss if this general assembly does nothing to address this issue.”