Legislation that would allow human trafficking victims to sue hotels and other businesses that turned a blind eye to the abuse moved forward in the Senate on Monday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, intends to give victims more litigation power to recoup economic damages as well as cost for their medical and mental health expenses they amassed following their time of abuse.
“We can’t stop all these crimes from occurring, but it would be my hope that in an ecosystem like a hotel, there are people spotting and reporting those things to help those individuals,” Book said.
In cases where human trafficking is going on in a hotel, the bill provides language that protects business from lawsuits if employees are trained to recognize the signs of trafficking and if management has a plan set up to report suspicious activity.
Sens. Rene Garcia and Doug Broxson both had concerns that the measure could sprout “frivolous lawsuits” as an unintended consequences and that attorneys.
“My concern — my biggest fear — is that sometimes some of these women are going through such atrocities and they can be used as pawns for frivolous lawsuits,” Garcia said. “They should not be victimized again.”
During the debate four women testified to the panel that they were trafficked for sex. One of them, Connie Rose, said she was “raped 10, 20, 30, 40 times a day.”
“Hotels play a tremendous part in this,” she said, “is it really too much to ask of hotels and motels and the tourism industry? Hotels need to be accountable for what happened to me.”
The state’s Department of Children and Families in 2016 received close to 2,000 human trafficking complaints, a 50-percent uptick from the previous years.
Under the bill, traffickers who are taken to court would have to pay $50,000 to state human trafficking trust fund that aims to help victims and funds education for the public on how to recognize the signs of trafficking. The fine was slashed in half Monday after the bill was amended by the Senate Committee of Children, Families and Elder Affairs.
As amended, the bill now heads to the Rules Committee, its last committee stop before it can hit the full floor. The effort in the House has stalled, though. The House bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ross Spano, was temporarily postponed in its last committee stop early this month.