Tampa Rep. Jackie Toledo unveiled human trafficking legislation Thursday at Tampa International Airport ahead of Super Bowl LV.
The bill, HB 523, would provide the Attorney General’s Office tools to develop a human trafficking victim advocacy program, making the state’s resources for victims more consistent. Broward Democrat Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, SB 812.
“Human traffickers have no regard for human life, they think they can get away with it because our system is broken,” Toledo said. “I’m happy to say that we are here to change that.”
The program will include 30 hours of training and allows privileged communication for survivors, providing them a network of resources.
The goal, Toledo said, is to stop the supply side of the industry by targeting perpetrators and giving victims resources necessary for rehabilitation.
The bill would also allow victims to file for expungement of crimes committed while they were being trafficked.
“Imagine being on the streets as a young teenager, and the only way you can survive is to steal food from a convenience store,” Toledo said. “Fast-forward, and you’re trying to get your life back on track, get a degree, or buy a home, and the only thing left on your record is a charge for robbery — you can’t move on with your life.”
The bill would also alter the prosecution process, removing the deposition requirement and granting the state the ability to assume the role of victim, so that the survivor does not have to relive trauma.
“This bill means a lot to law enforcement. Our job is to go out there and arrest human traffickers, but our next job is to make sure our victims are not victimized again,” St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said. “They’ve gone through enough.”
This legislation is another move by Florida lawmakers to crack down on human trafficking as the Super Bowl approaches in Tampa.
Attorney General Ashley Moody recently joined “It’s a Penalty” to unveil educational signage and other displays at Tampa International Airport. Multiple players from the National Football League are also participating in a public service announcement on the issue.
During last year’s Super Bowl in Miami-Dade County, state officials made similar pushes to increase awareness.
Uber drivers will also be displaying tags providing help hotline numbers. Hosting service Airbnb is also partnering with global anti-trafficking group “It’s a Penalty” to combat human trafficking in Tampa by educating hosts on the issue and informing them on how to spot and report it.
Research has shown Tampa has the 12th highest rate of human trafficking reports per capita in the U.S.
Big sporting events like the Super Bowl can increase human trafficking due to an influx of visitors. And Florida has the third-highest rate of human trafficking cases reported by the state, according to leading anti-trafficking organization Polaris.
“We will be welcoming so many visitors — thousands of visitors from all over the country,” Toledo said. “But we will not welcome any more of human trafficking.”