Legislature passes several bills targeting human trafficking

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A series of bills strengthening Florida’s efforts to combat human trafficking passed the House this week, which will help the state provide better care for victims of 21st Century slavery.

The bills were part of the Legislature’s Work Plan 2014 “Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable” initiative, a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.

Highlights of the comprehensive plan includes creating safe places for child victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse to live and obtain needed treatment.

“This session, the Florida House is making the protection of Florida’s most vulnerable a priority, including potential victims of human trafficking,” Weatherford said. “I appreciate the leadership of Representatives Harrell, Trujillo and Spano in working to eradicate this modern-day form of slavery.”

Passed on Friday, HB 989 adds increased penalties for violators, with greater protections and assistance to victims of human trafficking with critical provisions to prevent it from continuing in Florida.

The bill allows victims of human trafficking of minors to be eligible for victim relocation assistance and expands provisions relating to the expunction of criminal history records for victims of human trafficking and protects court records of implicated minors.

The bill also removes the statute of limitations for human trafficking offenses, allowing the state to prosecute more cases.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, sponsor of HB 989 said the bill helps victims of human trafficking “the ability to begin moving forward to a better life.”

HB 7141, which passed on Tuesday, expands on the 2012 Safe Harbor Act, which considers survivors of human trafficking, particularly survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, as victims rather than criminals.

Additional regulatory requirements will be enacted for Department of Children and Families (DCF) and other community groups providing child welfare services, to ensure they have the proper tools to respond to victims.

HB 7141 also calls for the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to study commercial sexual exploitation of children in Florida. It also establishes a fifteen-member Statewide Council on Human Trafficking within the Department of Legal.

“We would like to believe that terrible things like this don’t happen in our state, but sadly, human trafficking is prevalent in Florida,” said sponsor Rep. Gayle Harrell, who chairs the Healthy Families Subcommittee. “This legislation focuses on the victims of human trafficking, ensuring that these children receive the services they need to overcome abusive these relationships and grow into healthy adults.”

Rep. Ross Spano called the legislation “another step forward in Florida’s fight against human trafficking.”

Spano sponsored HB 1017, which was the source of  many of the provisions included in HB 989. “It is my hope that increasing the penalties for these crimes will deter this activity in our state and help to protect our vulnerable children.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.