Human trafficking bill advances

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- State Rep. Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, left, and Leah Trammell, research analyst for Trafficking Hope, speak Thursday in support of House Bill 126, which would fine some establishments that fail to post a human trafficking hotline number, during the House Judiciary Committee meeting.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- State Rep. Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, left, and Leah Trammell, research analyst for Trafficking Hope, speak Thursday in support of House Bill 126, which would fine some establishments that fail to post a human trafficking hotline number, during the House Judiciary Committee meeting.

Bill would put teeth into law

Truck stops, strip clubs and other businesses would face fines for failing to post a human-trafficking hotline number under legislation that advanced Thursday.

The fines, which would range from $50 to $2,500, are a compromise agreed upon by the House Committee on Judiciary.

House Bill 126 initially called for businesses to lose their alcohol licenses for not advertising resources for victims of sexual exploitation, forced labor or unwanted organ removal.

State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, characterized HB126 as a way to ensure a child or a teenager sees a phone number.

“It’s putting a little bit of light into a really dark situation,” she said.

Current law requires sexually oriented businesses and highway truck stops to post information about the Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. The hotline, (888) 373-7888, connects trafficking victims with local law enforcement officials.

Gov. Bobby Jindal included human trafficking measures in his crime package last year. A proposal backed by the governor created life sentences for certain traffickers

At the same time, state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, successfully sponsored legislation requiring strip clubs, highway truck stops and other businesses to display information about the national hotline for trafficking victims.

Months later, the number is not being posted despite the law, said Kathleen Benfield with Louisiana Family Forum Action.

She said clubs on Bourbon Street, for example, are not displaying the hotline.

Benfield said Louisiana Family Forum Action asked Hodges to help put some teeth in the law.

Louisiana Family Forum Action is a nonprofit advocacy organization associated with Louisiana Family Forum, which characterizes itself as a voice for traditional families.

Benfield said the hotline needs to be posted in places such as strip club dressing rooms, where women could see them while separated from the men who might be trafficking them.

Leah Trammell, a research analyst with Trafficking Hope, said the national hotline puts victims in touch with partners who then contact local law enforcement.

“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world,” she said.

Hodges introduced the bill as a way to cut into a multimillion-dollar criminal industry.

State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, said the bill did a little more than that, noting that businesses’ alcohol permits could be revoked.

Hodges quickly offered an amendment to strip that language from the bill. The legislation then zipped through the committee.