FRANKFORT — A measure that would strengthen Kentucky human trafficking laws and provide more resources to trafficking victims was approved unanimously Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 350, which now goes to the full House, would increase fines for human trafficking and increase training for Kentucky law enforcement.
The bill also would create a Human Trafficking Victims Fund, where some of the fines and assets seized from people convicted of human trafficking would be used to treat victims.
Kentucky passed laws in 2007 that made human trafficking a crime, but there has been little education about the law. The state needs to update its laws to address a growing problem nationally and internationally, said Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, sponsor of HB 350.
"Those laws are not being utilized," Overly told the committee.
Marissa Castellanos of Catholic Charities in Louisville said there have been 67 cases of human trafficking and 12 indictments in Kentucky since 2007. About 52 percent of those victims were trafficked for sex and 42 percent were trafficked for labor purposes.
"We believe that is just the tip of the iceberg," Castellanos said.
She has said there have yet to be any convictions on charges related to human trafficking. That's why Kentucky law enforcement needs more education and more tools to address human trafficking, Overly said.
By creating a specialized unit in the Kentucky State Police, there will be officers who can assist other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with human trafficking cases, Overly said. In many cases, human trafficking is connected to other aspects of organized crime.
The bill also would make it a crime to patronize prostitution or patronize a minor for prostitution.
Gretchen Hunt of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs said the bill also makes providing false identification to victims a crime. Traffickers often give underage victims fake IDs that indicate they are older. The identification also gives them new names, making it difficult for law enforcement to determine that they have been trafficked from other countries or states, said Castellanos.
Ernie Lewis, who represents the state's criminal defense lawyers, told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that the new crimes would have higher penalties than other similar sex crimes. Lewis said that he opposes prostitution but that for the laws to be just there should be parity.