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House unanimously approves bill to combat human trafficking

“Human trafficking has had an impact across our state.”

A bill designed to combat human trafficking in massage parlors and strip clubs was approved 112-0 during a House session Monday morning.

The bill (HB 851) has evolved since it was originally filed by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen. It was originally aligned with a Senate bill (SB 540) aimed at training hotel and motel workers to spot and report human trafficking.

But those sections have since been removed from the bill. A similar bill from Sen. Lauren Book died last session due to pushback from the hotel industry. However, that legislation allowed for victims to sue establishments where trafficking occurred. That provision was not present in this year’s version.

Fitzenhagen’s legislation now focuses on massage parlors. The legislation says license applications will be denied if the owner or operator of the facility has pleaded guilty to prostitution or related acts.

It also requires a massage parlor to “implement a procedure for reporting suspected human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline or to a local law enforcement agency and shall post in a conspicuous place in the establishment which is accessible to employees, customers, and the public a sign with the relevant provisions of the reporting procedure.”

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Those businesses must also set up a training program for employees designed “to prevent, detect, and report suspected human trafficking.”

The legislation also adds an altered version of a proposed bill by Rep. Toby Overdorf. Overdorf’s legislation expanded the legal definition of “adult theater” to include strip clubs. That would allow law enforcement to enter strip clubs in order to check documentation showing the workers were of legal age. Law enforcement has that authority with regard to adult theaters. But strip clubs do not currently fall under that umbrella.

Overdorf’s bill also set up mandatory minimums for those convicted of solicitation. Those portions have been added to the Fitzenhagen measure as an amendment, though the mandatory minimums have been dropped to five days for a first offense and 15 days for additional offenses.

“Human trafficking has had an impact across our state,” Overdorf said during comments on the floor Monday.

“This is just wrong.”

It’s unclear how the companion measure, sponsored by Sen. Book, will seek to align with Fitzenhagen’s bill.

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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