States make inroads to combat human trafficking

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, March 16, 2017

States across the country are taking steps to curb human trafficking. Some states detail help from professional drivers.

Sex trafficking is described as one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world generating more than $32 billion annually. It’s estimated that more than 20 million people are being trafficked worldwide. In the U.S., victims are commonly transported along the interstate highway system.

State officials have been busy in recent years acting to combat sex trafficking. There are at least 28 states, and Washington, D.C., that have adopted at least in part a statewide model created by the Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement/Department of Transportation to use weigh stations, ports of entry, rest stops, and state patrols to get the word out about trafficking.

In July 2016, Ohio became the first state to implement mandatory training via Truckers Against Trafficking.

TAT is a nonprofit organization that educates trucking and travel plaza industry members on domestic sex trafficking. The group touts 300,000 trucking industry members registered as TAT trained through their website.

All new commercial drivers in Ohio now are provided a one-hour training program. Every driver issued a CDL in the state is also given a TAT wallet card that contains information on how to report a tip to law enforcement when suspecting human trafficking activities.

The training, however, is not required by state law.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced earlier this month a new program to combat trafficking. Three years ago the state enacted a rule to define human trafficking and give law enforcement tools described as necessary to go after traffickers.

The new program authorizes the state DOT to train staff at driver’s licensing centers to notice signs of a potential trafficking situation. The agency is also distributing wallet cards to CDL holders and applicants.

“Human trafficking has sadly become a worldwide problem,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said in a released statement. “We at PennDOT are doing our part to help spot victims and get them assistance.”

In addition to states enacting policy changes intended to fight trafficking, state lawmakers are also taking steps to help.

Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas are among the states pursuing first-of-their-kind statutes to require commercial driver’s licensing tie-ins with efforts to combat trafficking. Specifically, a training course on human trafficking would be required for CDL applicants and truckers renewing their licenses.

The Arkansas bill, HB1923, could come up for consideration in the House Public Transportation Committee as early as Thursday, March 16.

Texas Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, is the sponsor of a bill to require training in identifying and reporting trafficking.

She points out that in 2016 Texas had the second-highest number of human trafficking victims with 670 cases reported; California led the nation with 1,323 cases.

Garcia said truck drivers are in a unique position to make a difference and stop traffickers who seek to exploit victims and the transportation system for their personal gain.

“We have nearly 200,000 truck drivers in the state of Texas that can be our eyes and ears on the road and in places like motels and truck stops where victims are being exploited every day,” Garcia said in prepared remarks.

TAT’s Kylla Lanier provided testimony to Kansas legislators during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. She said that truck drivers made nearly 1,600 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center during the most recent one-year period.

Lanier testified that there is much more to be done.

“If every driver, prior to hitting the road, had this life-saving information and training, imagine how many more calls will be made, imagine how many victims will be recovered out of this horrible reality, how many perpetrators – both the traffickers and the buyers of commercial sex – will be arrested.”

The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates the training will cost the state $77,558 in the next fiscal year.

In Kentucky, two bills – HB266 and SB141 – would add the CDL testing requirement.

SB141 includes a requirement for commercial drivers to be disqualified from driving truck if it is proven he or she does not report suspected human trafficking. Truckers who use their vehicle in the commission of any trafficking incident would have their CDL driving privileges revoked for life.

One more bill, HB331, would require the Department of Highways to post signs in English and Spanish with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline number in every rest area restroom.

Similarly, a Rhode Island state lawmaker is pursuing a new rule to ensure information about trafficking is posted at the state’s truck stops.

Walter Craddock, administrator for the Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during a recent hearing on the issue his agency is already posting the signage, and providing TAT cards and window decals at licensing facilities.

“As the applicants are coming through they are exposed to the hotline number and what they should be doing to become an everyday hero,” Craddock testified.

Sponsored by Sen. Elaine Morgan, R-Richmond and Hopkinton, the bill would require contact information for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center to be posted at truck stops and other “targeted establishments.”

Although S421 did not get a vote during the hearing, Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket and North Providence, said the state needs to take action.

“I urge all of us here in the General Assembly to do whatever we can to pass laws that can somehow make a dent into these truly heinous activities.”

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is taking place can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 and report what they know.

Related story:
Group will offer sex trafficking awareness training at MATS

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