A Senate bill aimed at cracking down on prostitution and human trafficking in Florida cleared its final committee Tuesday afternoon, sending it to the House floor.
The legislation (HB 1439), sponsored by Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, garnered unanimous support in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill bans hourly rates at hotels, motels and vacation rentals and raises the first-time penalty for those paying for sex from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
Toledo said the changes were meant to decrease the market for human trafficking by lessening the number of people looking to purchase that type of sex work.
“It assists law enforcement and helps survivors of human trafficking to reduce demand,” Toledo said. “The bill also bans hourly rates at all short-term public lodging establishments, hotels, motels and vacation rentals. This is to eliminate opportunities and locations for this offensive practice to continue.”
The bill also creates the Statewide Data Repository for Anonymous Human Trafficking Data, which will collect data to help understand and fight human trafficking. The repository will be housed in and operated by the University of South Florida St. Pete.
“The tip lab run by some of the most prominent scholars in the field of human trafficking will provide data analysis that will further assist law enforcement around the state in an effort to monitor trends, identify hotspots, and stop and prevent human trafficking,” Toledo said.
The legislation garnered public support from the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and USF.
In its previous committee, the bill was amended with a measure from Rep. Fiona McFarland. That amendment removed the requirement that patrons provide a photo ID at hotels, motels and vacation rentals from the bill. She said it was unnecessary because hotels already are required to keep a registry of who stays in their rooms.
Samantha Padgett, general counsel for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, spoke in favor of the amendment in that committee. She said the ID requirement could complicate remote and virtual check-ins and create privacy concerns if hotels had to keep photocopies of IDs.
However, Democratic Rep. Michael Grieco said he did not buy that reasoning and argued keeping the ID requirement is not a large inconvenience for businesses or customers.