Locally sponsored bill would eliminate human trafficking ‘loophole’

 

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Legislature is considering a locally sponsored bill to bring harsher punishments against those found guilty of aiding with human trafficking or interfering with the enforcement of the state’s human trafficking laws, closing what one local senator called a “loophole” in the law.

Senate Bill 179, which is sponsored by state Sens. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and House Bill 245, which is sponsored by Reps. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, and Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, seeks to significantly enhance punishments for those found guilty of obstructing investigation into or aiding human trafficking offenses.

As of Jan. 30, the Senate bill was pending a third reading before the Senate, while the House bill was still in committee.

“It’s a loophole in our child trafficking laws,” Ward said. “We are trying to use as many tools as we can to head these problems off.”

Under Alabama law, first-degree human trafficking is defined as a person subjecting another person to labor servitude or sexual servitude through use of coercion or deception, or if a person “obtains, recruits, entices, solicits, induces, threatens, isolates, harbors, holds, restrains, transports, provides, or maintains any minor for the purpose of causing a minor to engage in sexual servitude.”

“A corporation, or any other legal entity other than an individual, may be prosecuted for human trafficking in the first degree for an act or omission only if an agent of the corporation or entity performs the conduct which is an element of the crime while acting within the scope of his or her office or employment and on behalf of the corporation or entity, and the commission of the crime was either authorized, requested, commanded, performed, or within the scope of the person’s employment on behalf of the corporation or entity or constituted a pattern of conduct that an agent of the corporation or entity knew or should have known was occurring,” reads the state code.

Currently, a person who “obstructs, or attempts to obstruct, or in any way interferes with or prevents the enforcement” of the first-degree human trafficking law could be found guilty of a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If the bill passes, it would up the felony to a Class A, which could bring up to life in prison.

Current Alabama law also defines second-degree human trafficking as a person or corporation benefiting financially or otherwise from trafficking victims.

The legislative bill looks to up charges for those who obstruct or interfere with enforcing the second-degree human trafficking law from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B felony, which could result in a 20-year prison term.