Kansas Legislature taking up measure targeted at human trafficking

? Since 2011, more than 25 states have passed laws that address human trafficking. And soon, Kansas may join that list.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a measure that would provide stricter laws on human trafficking.

Senate Bill 61 removes the word “prostitution” from existing laws and allows law enforcement to treat cases as human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation. The bill sets out harsher penalties for human trafficking and related crimes. It also modifies the way law enforcement treats and holds victims of human trafficking crimes.

SB 61 also reclassifies “promoting prostitution” to the sale of sexual relations and would be a felony. First-time offenders would be assessed fines of $2,500 to $5,000. Repeat offenders would be assessed fines of more than $5,000. The money from the fines will be funneled into the human trafficking victim assistance fund.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore testified in favor of this bill. There were no opponents and only one neutral testimony.

According to Schmidt’s written testimony, sex trafficking in Wichita has increased from nine cases in 2008 to 45 cases in 2011.

“This legislative package targets that class of offenders and provides additional tools for stakeholders who work with these victims to stop human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation,” Schmidt said.

Bennett said human trafficking cases are difficult to detect, investigate and even prosecute.

“The legislation proposed in SB 61 goes a long way to address these issues,” he said. “The training component alone would help ensure law enforcement across the state is exposed to the issues attendant to these cases.”

Though there was no opposition to SB 61 submitted or present at the meeting there was one neutral testimony given. The Kansas Association of Counties and Sedgwick County Department of Corrections Director Mark Masterson said they applaud the effort to curtail human trafficking but have concerns about funding.

“The current law provides that if a teenage human-trafficking victim runs away from a secure facility, the runaway can end up in a county juvenile-detention facility for up to 180 days,” Masterson said in written testimony. “The 180-day period does not include any state-provided treatment or funding from the state to cover the detention stay.”

Schmidt said the concept of human trafficking seems foreign to most Kansans but it is a major problem. Kansas is not the only state focusing on human trafficking. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since 2011 more than 100 human trafficking bills have passed in more than 25 states.

The bill will be worked on by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.