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Anti-human trafficking measure moves in the Senate

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Sen. Lori Berman

Sen. Lori Berman

Maintaining a house of prostitution would be a felony under an anti-human trafficking measure that is moving in the Florida Senate.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 7-0 on January 11 to approve SB 760 by Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach.

“I wanted to acknowledge how important it is that we address human trafficking,” said Berman, an attorney.

The measure, crafted with input from 15th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Dave Aronberg, would raise the penalty for a first-time offense of maintaining a house of prostitution from a second-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

The penalty for transporting a person for purposes of prostitution would also increase from a second-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

Other provisions would expand the definition of coercion in the human trafficking statute to include withholding a victim’s wages or supplying alcohol.

According to a state Department of Education report, Florida reported 767 human trafficking cases in 2018, the third highest in the nation. Of those, 149 involved minors. The average age of a trafficked minor is between 11 and 13, according to the report.

“This is totally out of control,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake. “It’s just going on right in front of your nose, and you’re not aware of it.”

Combating the problem transcends partisan differences, Baxley said.

“Sometimes you and I see the world differently,” Baxley told Berman. “I’m going to back you all the way on this.”

Aronberg praised the measures, saying existing law is inadequate to discourage the crime.

“Senator Berman and Representative Skidmore’s proposed human trafficking legislation is an important and necessary step to ensure that individuals are punished more severely for exploiting some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” Aronberg said.

SB 760 faces hearings in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and the Appropriations Committee before reaching the Senate floor.

A House companion, HB 521 by Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, has yet to be heard.

Another anti-human trafficking measure, HB 1439 by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, would make it a felony to solicit sex from a prostitute.

Other provisions would ban hotel and motel operators from charging an hourly rate and create a statewide database.

Filed January 10, a day before the two-month session convened, HB 1439 has yet to receive committee references.

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