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Florida lawmakers approve the next step in the fight against human trafficking

A woman sitting on a bed, back to the camera, looking out a window
Florida has the third-most human trafficking cases in the U.S.

A bill that would take the next step in combating human trafficking in Florida is heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The measure would require the state Department of Children and Families to conduct more oversight of adult safe homes and tighten standards for hotels and motels where trafficking may be taking place.

There are currently 13 safe houses statewide that serve adult survivors of human trafficking, according to a Senate staff analysis. DCF doesn’t regulate or monitor any of them, and current law doesn’t require it. Under the bill, DCF would be required to certify adult safe houses, inspect and re-certify them every year. The measure passed the House unanimously on Monday, sponsored by Republican Rep. Michelle Salzman of Escambia County.

“It creates adult safe house standards in requiring certification for providers of adult safe houses,” Salzman said. “It provides for age-appropriate education and public awareness at certain homes, and it creates enforcement standards for hotel training and signage.”    

The measure also requires security for safe houses. Florida will be the first state to certify adult safe houses, says Terry Coonan, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University. He says it’s hugely important…

“Because we have so many young women, in particular, who age out that have been engaged -- often exploited -- in human trafficking before the age of 18,” Coonan said. “After they turn 18, unless they’ve already been in the care of the Department of Children and Families, there is really a dearth of services for them.”

The bill would also tighten standards for hotels and motels where human trafficking may be taking place. The requirement is that the hotels and motels display signs that say human trafficking won’t be tolerated on their premises and train their employees accordingly.

Currently, Florida law gives hotels and motels 90 days to correct training or awareness deficiencies when they are found to be out of compliance. Under the bill, that period would be shortened to 45 days. Here’s Coonan:

“This is very much a result of the Sun-Sentinel investigation earlier this year that pointed out that there have been no fines basically received by our Florida government despite back in 2019 a very intentional fine system being set up for hotels and motels that are not conforming to this requirement,” he said.  

The establishments won’t be eligible for a second correction period after a second violation -- so they’re more likely to be fined under this measure. The National Human Trafficking Hotline found that 75 percent of trafficking survivors reported coming into contact with hotels and motels at some point while being trafficked.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.