The House has passed the “Human Trafficking Reduction Act,” an effort to crack down on prostitution and human trafficking in Florida.
The legislation 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. Lawmakers intend the changes to decrease the market for human trafficking by lessening the number of people looking to purchase that type of sex work.
Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican who has made combating human trafficking a priority during her time in the Legislature, and the House amended her proposal (HB 1439) onto a separate bill (SB 772) from Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry that senators passed earlier this month. On Wednesday, the House voted 114-1 to pass the Senate bill, which must return to the Senate next.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Toledo told members that human trafficking is modern day slavery.
“Human trafficking doesn’t just happen to the extremes of our society,” Toledo said. “It’s not the Hollywood stories with a white band prowling the streets, but a much more mundane and insidious approach that targets in person vulnerability.”
The average age of victims when they are first trafficked is between 12 and 14, Toledo noted. The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons estimates 20% of victims around the world are children.
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.
During the committee process, Toledo’s legislation garnered support from the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and USF.
Previously, Toledo’s version of the bill required patrons to provide a photo ID at hotels, motels and vacation rentals. However, that provision was removed when it was deemed unnecessary because hotels already are required to keep a registry of who stays in their rooms.
In amending Perry’s bill, the House removed several provisions, including one limiting when victims and witnesses of several traumatic crimes could be deposed in court.
Miramar Republican Rep. Tom Fabricio was the lone member to vote against the bill.
Upon becoming law, the bill will take effect immediately.