FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Human trafficking laws in Kentucky would be strengthened to better protect victims while adding more punishments for offenders under a bill that passed the House Friday.
The chamber voted unanimously, 95-0, in favor of the measure, which now proceeds to the Senate for consideration. The House passed similar legislation last year, but it died in the Senate.
The bill bars authorities from charging victims with prostitution and instead mandates that they receive treatment and other protections, such as protective custody, during an investigation. The bill also would require offenders to forfeit property used in forced labor crimes and pay a $10,000 fine, all of which would finance a fund for Kentucky's human trafficking victims.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear called upon lawmakers in this month's State of the Commonwealth address to pass human trafficking legislation.
Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat, sponsored the proposal.
She told lawmakers before the vote that fewer than 20 human trafficking cases have been prosecuted in Kentucky since 2008. But since then, she said, 151 victims received services from Kentucky Rescue and Restore, which is operated by Catholic Charities of Louisville. The bill's human trafficking fund would pay for more training for law enforcement to better identify the crime and to prosecute it.
"For those of you who think that human trafficking happens in big cities, that it happens in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, it does," Overly said. "But the sad news is that I'm going to report is that it's also going on in our backyards."
More than 300 calls from inside Kentucky were made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's hotline between 2007 and early 2012, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported last year. Fifty-two percent of those calls dealt with sex trafficking,
The legislation is House Bill 3.