Task Force on Human Trafficking preparing recommendations for 2017 legislative session

A legislative task force on Human Trafficking has held its final hearing, though its members could continue its work in some form.

Representative Elijah Haahr (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Elijah Haahr (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The group was created in 2015 with the goal of making recommendations to the legislature on how to fight trafficking in Missouri.  A report with those recommendations is due by the end of the year, and is being developed now.

The body already helped pass legislation adding to the crime of trafficking the advertising of a victim for sex or pornography, and letting a victim keep his or her address confidential, making it harder for traffickers to find them.

The group has been chaired by Springfield Republican Elijah Haahr.

“It’s been a good experience and I think it’s one of those things that everybody in the state can appreciate the work we’re doing here today,” said Haahr.  “Probably the biggest thing is opening people’s eyes to how bad the issue is in the Midwest, but then hopefully giving them some of the tools that we can to move forward.”

One of the task force’s recommendations will be the creation of a position in the state’s government that oversees anti-trafficking efforts.  That would require the legislature to propose where the money for such a person’s salary would come from in the state budget.  Discussion also continues of where in state government that position would be housed, or whether it should be a non-profit position outside of the government.

Representative Cloria Brown (R-St. Louis) also sits on the Task Force on Human Trafficking (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Cloria Brown (R-St. Louis) also sits on the Task Force on Human Trafficking (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Other recommendations could include using state money to help support groups that offer victims treatment and assistance transitioning out of trafficking, and requiring that employers post the national trafficking hotline in break rooms.  Haahr expects six to ten recommendations will be included in the report.

Another possible recommendation that Haahr said could face some resistance is that of decriminalization in cases in which a person working as a prostitute was coerced.  He expects legislators to be more supportive of proposing tougher legal penalties for those who solicit prostitutes, and of options for trafficking victims to have prostitution convictions expunged from their records.

“Nobody wants to be perceived as Missouri going soft on crime,” said Haahr.  “You also don’t want traffickers to declare open season and think, ‘We can bring women to this state where they’re not going to get arrested for prostitution,’ and have an influx of new trafficking in the state.”

Several members of the task force expressed an interest in seeing it continue to meet, though it is set to expire at the end of this year.  The legislature could consider a resolution that would continue the group or create a new one, or it could continue to meet as a working group.  Members also learned that Attorney General-Elect Josh Hawley and the state courts are also discussing efforts to fight trafficking in Missouri, so lawmakers could wait to see what develops there before deciding how a legislative effort might proceed.

Haahr expects the task force’s report and included recommendations to be released in a matter of weeks.