House proposes boost to fight against human trafficking

      Missourians could decide whether to create a new fine against people convicted of human trafficking or (prostitution) offenses, to pay for efforts to fight trafficking and treat its victims, under legislation from the House.

Representative Jeff Coleman (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communication)

      The House voted to pass House Bill 2307 and has given initial approval to House Joint Resolution 114.  Together, those would create a fine of $5000 to be assessed against anyone convicted of a trafficking-related offense or of soliciting a prostitute. 

      That fine would be divided between two uses, according to sponsor Jeff Coleman (R-Grain Valley).

      “The $5,000 will be dispersed and allocated 50-percent towards the rehabilitation services of the victims of human trafficking, and 50-percent will be allocated towards the local efforts to prevent human trafficking such as education to law enforcement, hospitals, and schools,” said Coleman. 

      Both pieces must be approved for Coleman’s plan to work.  HB 2307 would create in state statutes the framework for the fine and the fund into which it would go, but the decision on whether the fine could be used as he proposes would be left to Missouri voters.  HJR 114 would create the ballot question they would have to answer.

      “Under the Missouri constitution, all fines that are levied in Missouri go to the school districts.  We’re not taking away from the schools … this is a new fine.  We’re just asking that it does not go to the schools in this case; that it go to the services that we’re providing for,” said Coleman. 

      Coleman said this new fine could provide game-changing support for efforts against trafficking.  In the cases of victims, they often need various services such as counseling to help them recover and lead a normal life.

      “It takes a lot of money to help these victims get back on a path of restoration,” said Coleman. 

      The education his proposal would help pay for is something that law enforcement is asking for, as he’s been told by its providers.

      “When they go out and do this education for law enforcement agencies they will have people come up and be very, very upset at the fact that had they had this information just two weeks ago that they might have been able to help somebody because now they are prepared and they know what to look for where they didn’t two weeks ago, and they let somebody go because they didn’t know,” said Coleman.  “It’s a blessing and it’s also a curse because they now think back about all the people that they could’ve saved had they had this information, so what this [proposal] is to do is to help educate people what to look for.”

      Coleman said human trafficking is a big issue for Missouri and the state needs more ways to deal with it.

      “Especially in the Kansas City area we are the heart, because we have I-35 going north and south, we have I-70 going east and west, and we are the pass-through of all human trafficking.”

      He also said he feels personally passionate about the issue.

      “This is something that is near and dear to my heart just simply because I have four daughters,” said Coleman.  “I cringe.”

      The House voted 140-0 on HB 2307, sending it to the Senate.  It has given initial approval to HJR 114.