Yesterday, the Florida Legislature passed companion bills HB 7049 and SB 80, providing for harsher penalties for those convicted of human and sex trafficking. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz sponsored an item last September that urged state lawmakers to follow suit with a law passed by the Georgia General Assembly, which imposes a 25-year minimum prison sentence for using coercion to traffic someone under the age of 18.
The new Florida law increases the penalty for the crime of human smuggling from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony. A judge presiding over a human and/or sex trafficking case can authorize the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications when such interception may provide evidence of human trafficking in progress. In addition, operators of massage establishments and their employees must present valid government identification to an investigator of the Department of Health or law enforcement upon request.
Commissioner Diaz has remained a staunch advocate of tougher laws to prevent and break up sex trafficking rings in South Florida. According to recent legislation sponsored by the commissioner to identify trafficking victims at Miami-Dade’s airport and seaport, about 293,000 youths in the United States are currently at risk of being victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Many of these children are runaways who leave abusive and neglectful homes and become involved in prostitution for financial support or by force. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified the state of Florida as the third largest trafficking hub in the country.
“We can’t crack down on the people who organize these human trafficking rings without substantial penalties put in place for the crime,” said Commissioner Diaz. “One thing is clear: the trafficking of innocent people, particularly minors, is becoming far too prevalent in South Florida. These updates to our Florida statues will help law enforcement bring these criminals to justice.”
On a local level, Commissioner Diaz spearheaded a training program at both Miami International Airport and PortMiami for employees to identify and respond to suspected victims of trafficking. He also supported the recently passed Safe Harbor Act, which provides safe houses and treatment for young trafficking victims.
For more information, please contact Commissioner Diaz’s office at 305-599-1200.