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Lawmakers line up bills to fight human trafficking

Florida's Historic Capital building glows orange at night. The new Capital building rises behind it as the sunset fades.
Erich Martin
Used with permission
Lawmakers in the Capitol building are looking into legislation to curb human trafficking.

Florida is third in the nation when it comes to reports of human trafficking. And Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) says the crime is likely underreported. She has a measure to increase penalties for people who pay for sex.

By increasing the penalty for first-time sex buying, this will encourage Johns to think twice. Even if a person is able to plead down their charges to a misdemeanor, they will still need to register on the Johns registry,” Toledo says.

Lawmakers created the Johns registry, which was intended to keep a list of people convicted of paying for sex, in 2019, but Toledo says so far only one person’s name is on that list. She says her bill would help ensure the state makes better use of the tools it has available.

Increasing the penalty is a move anti human trafficking advocate Dotti Groover-Skipper supports.

“Through my 40 years of working with trauma victims of prostitution and sex trafficking I have witnessed years of torment due to the sorted actions of other people buying and selling their bodies against their will, all while the perpetrator basically gets a slap on the wrist,” Groover-Skipper says.

Toledo’s bill also attempts to reduce the availability of locations where trafficking often happens. Under her bill, places like hotels and vacation rentals would no longer be allowed to charge an hourly rate. That’s something Samantha Padgett with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association says her group supports.

“Regarding the prohibition on hourly rentals, FRLA whole heartedly supports this language. This is consistent with the position we have taken as an association and as an industry to be part of the solution when it comes to preventing human trafficking in the state of Florida. We believe enacting this prohibition on a state-wide basis is good policy for the state of Florida,” Padgett says.

But Padgett says there’s a provision of the bill that is concerning for organization. It requires lodging establishments to request identification from people who are staying there. While, she says that’s something most people are used, it’s something that has phased out during the coronavirus pandemic.

“More of our members are moving to virtual check in processes. This was more desirable during the pandemic because it cuts down on contact and in the aftermath with their being such a labor shortage, this also reduces staffing and even for midlevel hotels this is a growing operational trend. We’re unsure if the ID requirements as it stands in this language can be crafted in such a way to allow for virtual check in,” Padgett says.

Another bill moving forward seeks to protect victims and witnesses from facing intimidation. Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) recently explained the bill before a committee in his chamber. He says it expands protections already given to witnesses and victims in open court.

“This really protects those from participating in depositions unless it’s necessary to assist in trial in order to not cause additional stress and trauma to those who have already been victimized,” Brodeur says.

The measure also follows a provision in Toledo’s bill to create a state-wide database on human trafficking that can be used for officials to track and identify trends.

Lawmakers are also looking into legislation that would create a public records exemption to keep the identifying information of human trafficking victims private when they apply to have their records expunged for crimes they may have committed while being trafficked.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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