States continue to take action to combat human trafficking

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The list of states across the country to call on professional drivers to help curb human trafficking continues to grow.

Sex trafficking is described as one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, generating revenue of 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.

An Illinois bill that received unanimous support at the statehouse would mandate prospective truck drivers receive training on trafficking prevention. Specifically, a course would be incorporated into driver training for individuals applying for an Illinois commercial driver’s license.

The course would teach students how to identify and prevent trafficking.

The bill, HB1677, awaits action by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

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

One year ago Ohio became the first state to implement mandatory training via Truckers Against Trafficking.

Truckers Against Trafficking 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 are provided a one-hour training program. Every driver issued a CDL in the state is also given a Truckers Against Trafficking 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.

A program implemented this spring in Pennsylvania is intended to combat trafficking.

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 also is distributing wallet cards to CDL holders and applicants.

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

The Minnesota Department of Transportation also has taken action. The agency is installing posters in 41 rest areas across the state to educate travelers about human trafficking and to encourage them to report suspicious activity.

The posters include guidelines on recognizing signs of human trafficking and potential victims and a toll-free hotline to report any suspicious activity.

MnDOT Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said action is necessary because of the state’s ranking third nationally in human trafficking cases.

In addition to states enacting policy changes and other steps intended to fight trafficking, state lawmakers have also taken steps to help.

A new law in Arkansas now in effect requires commercial driver’s licensing tie-ins with efforts to combat trafficking. Specifically, a training course on human trafficking is in place for Class A CDL applicants and truckers renewing their licenses.

Truckers have two options to get trained: Take a course hosted by the Arkansas State Police or a third party group endorsed by troopers, or take a Truckers Against Trafficking online course.

The 30-minute TAT course is free.

Kansas and Texas have enacted the same rule.

The Texas law requires training in identifying and reporting trafficking.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, 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 personal gain.

She added that the nearly 200,000 truck drivers in Texas can be “our eyes and ears on the road and in places like motels and truck stops where victims are being exploited every day.”

TAT co-founder Kylla Lanier has said that actions taken by states are an important step to combat trafficking. She adds 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,” Lanier told Kansas legislators earlier this year.

Concerns about any training mandate potentially conflicting with federal regulations on entry-level driver training that states must comply with in the coming years, Maine lawmakers opted to adopt a new law that does not mandate training. Instead, it simply requires truckers to be provided with information about trafficking and how to report suspicious activities.

Still active in New Jersey is a bill to require CDL applicants and truckers renewing their licenses to undergo training.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said the bill will enlist the help of those who are often frontline witnesses to trafficking – whether they realize it or not.

“I’m eager for us to get this law on the books because I think truckers can and will be a great ally in this fight,” Singleton stated.

The training course would be reviewed at least every two years and modified if necessary.

The bill, A4845, is in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is taking place anywhere around the country can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 and report what they know.

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