The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a Missouri congresswoman's legislation to crack down on sex trafficking by expanding the ability of prosecutors to go after websites that promote and facilitate it.
Republican Rep. Ann Wagner's measure, which passed the Senate 97-2, also would give state attorneys general the authority to file civil lawsuits on behalf of victims of sex trafficking. The House approved it last month 388-25, sending it on to President Donald Trump for his expected signature.
In a statement, Wagner said the legislation "will finally give local, state, and federal prosecutors the tools they need to put predators behind bars."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders touted the legislation Wednesday, calling it "an important step forward in fighting the despicable act of human trafficking."
Websites such as Backpage.com, a classified site long labeled by authorities as an online brothel, have evaded penalties for years under the protection of the Communications Decency Act. Backpage currently faces various criminal cases and civil lawsuits around the country, but the federal law grants immunity to websites that host content created by others.
Other Missouri backers included Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who were among co-sponsors of separate legislation targeting websites that promote sex trafficking that was then added on to Wagner's.
The legislation's approval comes after years of pushback from the Internet Association, which counts Google, Facebook and Amazon among its members. The group has previously criticized efforts to amend the federal law, citing concerns about lawsuits against legitimate companies and threats to free speech, but the group last year withdrew opposition to efforts to amend the Communications Decency Act.
Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman in a statement said the group supports efforts to end human trafficking. But he also praised liability protections for websites he said "enable virtually all user-generated content online, allowing enormous parts of the internet ecosystem to function."
He said the association will keep working to "prevent attempts to weaken this crucial protection."