LINCOLN — Those who profit from human trafficking or hire the exploited for sex would face up to 50 years in prison under a proposal introduced Wednesday in the Nebraska Legislature.

Legislative Bill 289 raises penalties for sex trafficking to a minimum of one year in prison and a maximum of 50 years. It would apply to those who engage in trafficking as well as those who hire people forced into prostitution.

Under current law, the penalties for the offenses range from no prison time to a maximum of four years. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, sponsor of the bill, called the current penalties a slap on the wrist to those who engage in “despicable crimes.”

The bill calls for even harsher penalties for those who involve minors in sex trafficking.

“Everybody’s really serious about coming together and saying we’re not accepting this in Nebraska anymore,” she said.

The legislation is endorsed by Attorney General Doug Peterson, the Women’s Fund of Omaha and the Nebraska Family Alliance.

Those who use force or the threat of harm to coerce minors into sex trafficking would face 20 years to life in prison, compared with the current maximum of 20 years. And anyone convicted of inflicting physical harm on victims of sex trafficking could be locked up for as long as 50 years, from the current maximum of four years.

Pansing Brooks said other states that have significantly increased penalties have seen sex-trafficking activity sharply decrease.

In a related bill, Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue introduced LB 280, which would allow victims of human trafficking to obtain address confidentiality through the Nebraska Secretary of State.

Some of the other bills introduced Wednesday:

» School aid. All Nebraska school districts would get a share of state aid under LB 265, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson. The bill would provide a base amount of aid for each student in a district. The amount would start at $1,500 per student in the 2018-19 school year, increasing to $5,500 by the 2022-23 school year. The proposal would mean more money for rural districts in general, while urban ones would lose. Currently, state school aid goes to districts with the greatest need and smallest amount of property tax resources.

» Automatic voter registration. Nebraskans applying for or renewing a driver’s license would be automatically registered to vote under LB 290 introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha. Current law allows people to register to vote through the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, though they must opt in. Vargas’ bill would require people going to the DMV to opt out. The change also would apply to those applying for or renewing applications for public assistance programs through the Nebraska Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

» Cybersecurity. School districts could issue bonds and raise the property tax levy for cybersecurity projects under LB 247 introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln. Districts currently are allowed to do so for projects that address environmental hazards, accessibility barriers and other safety hazards.

» Seat belts in school buses. A bill sponsored by Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann would require all school buses in Nebraska purchased after Jan. 1, 2018, to be equipped with lap-shoulder belts for each student. Hilkemann introduced a similar bill two years ago, but it failed to advance out of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. LB 279 would not require school districts to retrofit their existing buses with belts.

World-Herald staff writers Martha Stoddard and Emily Nohr contributed to this report.

jduggan@owh.com, (402) 476-6281

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