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INDIANAPOLIS — During their next session, some state lawmakers plan to reintroduce a bill that would heighten penalties and work to better protect victims of human trafficking in Indiana.

According to a report from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, in 2019, more than 150 human trafficking cases were reported in Indiana. That’s a nearly 20% spike compared to the previous year.

The issue has gained the attention of Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich and his wife Linda.

Three years ago, the couple started the foundation kNot Today, which works to combat child exploitation.

“When we came to the state, we realized that it’s not just border states,” Linda Reich, the organization’s founder and chair, said. “It’s alive and well in Indiana.”

The proposal discussed at an interim study committee meeting Tuesday passed both the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives last session without a single vote in opposition.

“My goal with that bill was to eradicate human trafficking in the state of Indiana and close any loopholes that might be left,” said State Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville).

The bill authored by McNamara would have removed consent from the victim as a defense and allowed young victims to submit video statements instead of testifying in court. It would have also increased penalties in situations when the victim was under age 18.

But a Senate amendment was later introduced that would have provided a defense for those facing prosecution if they said they didn’t know a child victim was under 18.

“Because you purchased a human being, it doesn’t matter if you knew or didn’t know if they were under 18,” McNamara said.

After the amendment was added, the bill died. But McNamara said she plans to reintroduce her bill next session.

State Rep. John Bartlett (D-Indianapolis), who has also worked on the legislation, said the issue remains urgent.

“With the COVID situation and our children being on the internet constantly … those violators are able to get with our children,” State Rep. Bartlett said .

Several lawmakers say they feel more optimistic about the bill’s chances of becoming law next session.

“It’s one of those awareness-type situations,” said State Sen. Michael Crider, who plans to reintroduce related legislation in the Senate. “A lot of people think that this is something that happens in some far-away place. It’s something that happens right in our backyard.”

We reached out to the state Senator who introduced the amendment to the bill last session and are waiting to hear back.

The next legislative session begins in January, which is the earliest lawmakers could begin the process to make the bill law.