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AN important bill to help survivors of the commercial sex trade rebuild their lives is not moving fast enough through the Washington state Senate.

House Bill 1292 would allow former sex workers to petition a judge to clear their record of prostitution convictions.

Thanks to the leadership of state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, the measure sailed through the House last month by a vote of 94-1.

The state Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public hearing on Monday, but since has taken no action. Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, should schedule a vote on HB 1292 and send it to the floor before a key cutoff deadline Friday.

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A growing number of law-enforcement and justice officials support this effort because they recognize far too many sex workers are not criminals. They are victims.

The average age of those who enter this form of modern-day slavery is about 13 years old.

Survivor Noel Gomez testified in the Senate committee about her experience being homeless at 16. Alone on the streets, she fell for a man who turned out to be a pimp. He forced her to sell her body for years before she found a way out.

Hundreds of children throughout King County are experiencing the same kind of exploitation.

By the time they escape or get rescued as adults, they have one or more prostitution convictions.

State lawmakers should give them a chance to clear their records so they can find jobs and go back to school.

“We’re really talking about people who’ve survived years of trauma and need help finding a normal, stable life again,” says Orwall, who is sponsoring this measure for the second time in two years. “We need to move the remaining barriers out of the way.”

Washington has been at the forefront of a national effort to end sex trafficking through legislation.

Now is not the time to let up.

State Sen. Padden should help pass HB 1292.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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