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Conchita Sarnoff

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Florida House Bill to Implement Harsher Penalties on Human Trafficking

Posted: 03/ 2/2012 7:36 pm

On Friday, February 24, 2012, CBS online reported how Florida "is taking stricter action against" human trafficking. According to Alex Conant, Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida House passed a bill that implements harsher penalties on human trafficking and smuggling in the sex-for-pay trade. "Just this past week, the Florida State house passed a bill that increased the maximum penalty for trafficking from 15 years to 30 years in prison", said Conant, "human trafficking is an issue which we need to be constantly vigilant in tackling in Florida and across the U.S. Senator Rubio will be working at the federal level to ensure the passage of Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S.1301)".

Oddly enough, in September 2011, the Senate bill (S. 1301) Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) that Senator Rubio "is working at the federal level" and was earlier introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and previously reauthorized three times (2003, 2005, 2008), did not pass. An equivalent House bill H.2830 was also defeated.

The CBS report announced that in the Florida legislature "a unanimous 111-0 vote increased the maximum penalty for trafficking from 15 years to 30 years in prison." In other words the maximum sentence for human smuggling would go from a meager one year in jail to the still unacceptable five years in prison. "Additional trafficking offenses would also be created with some charges having maximum sentences of life in prison. The Florida bill authorizes the statewide prosecutor to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases while another provision would allow wire taps in these cases."

Conant agreed "Florida is often listed as having one of the highest occurrences of human trafficking in the U.S." Although he claimed the "overall data is difficult to find due to the nature of the crime." It is clear that Florida has high numbers of victims of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking." Several reports including the Department of State's TIP (Trafficking In Persons) Report, ranked Florida as #5 in the country. New York and D.C. rank as numbers one and two with the highest numbers of trafficked incidents.

"The instances of labor trafficking occur in the highest percentages in the agricultural sector and in the tourism and hospitality industries," said Conant. "Sex trafficking numbers are high in Florida due to the large amount of run-aways who are at risk for being forced [and/or] coerced into prostitution and the flourishing adult entertainment industry. There is no typical victim in Florida; men, women, children, citizens and illegal aliens are all victimized in this horrible crime."

The Florida Bill, SB 80, passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on January 12, 2012. It was sponsored by Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa), and created Statute 480.0535. The Statute "requires operators of massage establishments to maintain valid work authorization documents on the premises for each employee who is not a US citizen; requires presentation of such documents upon request of a law enforcement officer; prohibits the use of a massage establishment license for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution; provides criminal penalties; and provides an effective date of October 1, 2012. The bill is now headed to the Senate Budget Committee for a hearing."

A vital question remains even with this new state bill: given the alarming statistics of human trafficking and child sex slavery in every state in the United States why has Congress (both chambers) not acted more expediently towards a bi-partisan federal bill that supports and extends the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), passed in 2000 prosecuting sex traffickers while providing services to victims of trafficking; and secondly, what are the mitigating interests preventing such an important "signature bill" from passing in the Senate and House?