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Bill would make it easier for trafficking victims to expunge criminal records

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Rep. Fred Hawkins

Rep. Fred Hawkins

A House panel has approved a measure that sponsors say would make it easier for human trafficking victims to return to society.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 17-0 on March 13 to approve HB 841 by Rep. Fred Hawkins, R-Orlando.

“Human trafficking is a modern-day slavery that can happen in any community,” Hawkins told the panel. “No family is immune.”

Advocates say the biggest barrier to recovery is the criminal record that victims accumulate while doing their trafficker’s bidding.

The measure would make it easier for victims to expunge any criminal record that is “directly related” to being trafficked – excluding violent offenses, such as robbery, kidnapping, and aggravated assault.

HB 841 would make a human trafficking victim’s petition for expungement, “and all related pleadings and documents,” exempt from public records laws.

Without a public records exemption, victims would be exposed to “possible discrimination due to details of their past lives becoming public knowledge,” the bill states in a declaration of public necessity.

“Persons who are victims of human trafficking and who have been arrested for offenses committed, or reported to have been committed, as a result of being trafficked, are themselves victims of crime,” the bill states.

The measure has the support of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association and the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

“To put it simply, this is a bill that will give people back their lives,” Hawkins said.

The bill faces hearings in the Ethics, Elections & Open Government Subcommittee and Judiciary before reaching the House floor.

A companion, SB 1210 by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, receives its first hearing in the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee on March 14.


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