Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) is working to improve on her 2013 legislative output (and perhaps distract from a lackluster performance on the Farm Bill Conference Committee) by shepherding a bill through Congress this year to clarify that people who pay for sex can be charged with human trafficking under existing law.
In her announcement last week claiming the Republican leadership that hasn't listened to her about the needs of farmers and ranchers has listened to her when it comes to this topic, Noem said she's been promised a week in the House dedicated to addressing her bill and others related to human trafficking. That amount of time rivals the week South Dakota Public Broadcasting spent in special reporting on human trafficking in our state earlier this month.
That SDPB coverage is among a lot of attention that the issue of human trafficking has garnered in South Dakota since the Polaris Project ranked our state worst in the U.S. for legal protections against human trafficking and U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson announced a task force to address this apparent deficiency. Now Noem is both pressing the issue in the halls of Congress and lobbying her colleagues in South Dakota's Statehouse to beef up the local efforts.
Now, I'll clearly state that I agree with John Hult's assessment during this summer's task force announcement-prompted analysis that the efforts of (in that case) Johnson and (now) Noem are reasonable, even admirable, public policy stances aimed at improving how our state and nation protect some of their most vulnerable citizens from subtle, or even outright, predation. But I also agree with Hult's statement that it's fair to consider the motives of agenda-setters.
And in such consideration, I find myself wondering what inspires both our U.S. Attorney and our lone U.S. Representative to be attacking, seemingly independently, the same issue one right after the other.
Could it be that this is the rare issue that calls officials across party affiliation and branches of government to all take notice and action?
Could it be that reports from organizations like the Polaris Project and stories like those told by activists and researchers devoted to stopping this vicious victimization have coalesced into a narrative that's impossible to ignore, or that effectively targeted lobbying by those same groups has gotten through to more than one government official?
Could it be that Noem saw Johnson gain notoriety for tackling the issue and saw an opportunity to gain her own policymaking notoriety, while also taking away Johnson's uncontested claim to the sort of crime-fighting accomplishments that could sound really good to a South Dakota electorate were he to be eying a chance to join or replace Noem in D.C. sometime down the line?
Any of those possibilities seems plausible to me, and any speculation about them should remain secondary to the discussions that Johnson's task force and Noem's legislation seem poised to spark. But just because the political questions are secondary to the policy ones doesn't mean the political questions shouldn't be asked.