Kansas lawmakers increase penalties for human trafficking

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Credit: Andrey Prokhorov Credit: rdegrie

TOPEKA — A measure that would strengthen state laws against human trafficking cleared the Kansas Legislature Thursday without a single vote against it.

The bill, which the House approved unanimously on Monday before the Senate’s action Thursday, creates new crimes related to human trafficking, toughens some existing laws and requires truck drivers to take training on spotting the practice.

GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s office didn’t say whether he would sign it, but communications director Melika Willoughby said in an email that Brownback “has long fought against human trafficking.”

The bill, proposed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, would prohibit using communication devices to facilitate human trafficking or knowingly selling travel services connected with human trafficking. It would also create the crime of internet trading child pornography and increase penalties for sexual exploitation of a child.

To help spot trafficking, the bill would also require that truck drivers get training to help them notice signs of human trafficking in order to get or renew a commercial license. Willie Prescott, legislative liaison for the attorney general’s office, said victims of human trafficking are often reluctant to come forward so having truck drivers trained to spot the signs would help.

“Enactment of this important legislation should help Kansas reach the top tier of states leading the fight against human trafficking,” Schmidt said in a release.

Schmidt has pushed for human trafficking bills as a state senator and attorney general.

Republican Rep. Blaine Finch, of Ottawa, said in some cases, victims of human trafficking are forced to become perpetrators. A provision in the bill would allow those people to defend themselves from prosecution by saying they were victims who were forced to participate in trafficking.

Schmidt submitted written testimony in favor of the bill in March. He said in his testimony that the state’s response to human trafficking has improved and that victim offices served 463 trafficking victims last fiscal year, up from two in 2009.