By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis could soon sign legislation that creates a statewide registry for pimps and johns in an effort to crack down on human trafficking. But Florida officials are not stopping there.
With their eyes on the Super Bowl and WrestleMania, both of which the state will host in 2020, officials are looking for new ways to ensure victims are not trafficked for sex or labor.
“As I always say, every issue does not necessarily need a law if people are willing to take on these issues voluntarily,” Attorney General Ashley Moody, who chairs the statewide Council on Human Trafficking, said Friday during a meeting of the panel.
Some things, however, are being put into state law.
During this year’s legislative session, for example, one of the last bills passed would create new requirements for the operation of massage parlors, strip clubs and hotels.
“The human trafficking bill that ultimately passed both chambers is an example of why you do not quit until the last minute of session,” Moody said.
Under the bill, strip club owners and operators would be charged with misdemeanors if they do not keep records of their employees’ driver licenses or documents with photo IDs and age verification.
“As to massage parlors, it also is very specific as to the criteria … to own and operate a massage parlor in the aspect of behavior that would revoke your license or not enable you to operate or own a massage parlor,” state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, the sponsor of the bill, told members of the council on Friday.
Ian McIntosh, with the Florida Massage Therapy Association, said Friday his organization was in “constant contact” with lobbyists during the legislative session to help address the language of the bill to minimize the impact on “legitimate therapists.”
Parts of the bill targeting massage parlors were tacked on after police accused New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and 24 other men of soliciting prostitution at a Jupiter massage parlor in February. Police initially said the sting was in connection with a human trafficking case, but no charges related to that crime have been filed.
Still, the demand for prostitution is seen as a “driving force that fuels sex trafficking,” the human trafficking bill says.
To deter pimps and johns, lawmakers voted to create the “Soliciting for Prostitution Public Database,” which lists the names, addresses and color photographs of people who are convicted or plead no contest to soliciting prostitution. A person’s name would be removed after five years if they do not re-offend.
The bill (HB 851) has not formally been sent to DeSantis. But Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who serves as vice-chair of the human trafficking panel, said the DeSantis administration is “very concerned” about making sure the state is prepared for the Super Bowl in 2020 in Miami-Dade County and WrestleMania in Tampa.
As a result, the council and private firms continue to design ways to tackle the problem.
Uber, for example, says it will hold “numerous training sessions” about human-trafficking issues for its drivers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The company is working to provide the sessions in English, Spanish and Creole, as well as offer flexible hours for drivers who may work during the daytime.
“We will also be looking to push out messaging, to not only to drivers but to riders,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s public policy manager in Florida. “So, if they see it outside of the vehicle, or wherever they are enjoying that sporting event, (they) can know what the signs are and where to report them.”
During next year’s legislative session, Fitzenhagen wants to push for more training on how to spot signs of human trafficking and how to report it. The bill passed May 3 required training for people in various fields, like massage therapists, hotel employees, police and doctors.
“I would like to see bars and restaurants added because those are places where a lot of the recruiting goes on for human trafficking victims,” the Fort Myers Republican said.