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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Controversial Washington State Senator Removed From Human Trafficking Task Force

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Washington Legislature
Washington state Sen. Pam Roach

Washington Lt. Governor Brad Owen has removed state Senator Pam Roach from a task force on human trafficking. Owen said Monday he took the action after receiving several complaints about the senator’s conduct at a December meeting of the task force.

Roach’s words have gotten her in trouble many times over a long career in the Washington Senate. In a letter to Roach, Lt. Governor Owen describes her comments at the December 14, 2015 task force meeting as “vile.”

Roach quickly launched a counter-offensive against Owen who’s a Democrat.

“He just makes it up and puts in the letter,” she said.

One of the allegations is that Roach accused victims of human trafficking of tattooing their faces and getting piercings in a deliberate effort to not fit in.

“That had nothing to do with trafficking., Roach said.

Roach said she was talking about homeless youth -- not victims.

“I probably said if you have tattoos and nose rings it might be a little difficult to get a job,” she said.

Roach describes herself a “leader on the issue of sex trafficking” and says she was angry that day with the Department of Commerce for taking so long to schedule the first meeting of the task force.

In his letter, Owen said Commerce officials described their staff as “visibly shaken” by Roach’s “attacks.”

A fellow Republican on the Human Trafficking Task Force, state Representative Luanne Van Werven, said the situation has been “blown up beyond” what she observed at the meeting.

This isn’t the first time Roach has been reprimanded by Lt. Governor Owen. In his letter he said he believes she should be removed from the state Senate based on years of “egregious and offensive behavior.”