The first piece of legislation to pass through the Missouri General Assembly is a bipartisan bill aimed at helping the fight against human trafficking.
The measure requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a poster containing information, such as the human trafficking resource center hotline phone number, by January 2019.
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Republican Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis, says the poster will be displayed at locations where victims of human trafficking are most likely to be found.
The signage is to be posted in conspicuous locations at 17 different types of businesses and public establishments. Among them are hotels that have been cited as nuisances for prostitution, strip clubs, train and bus stations, emergency rooms, women’s health centers and pregnancy resource centers.
Missouri, with its location at the crossroads of the country, ranks among the top 20 states for human trafficking.
According to Senator Onder, the legislation was one of the main recommendations of an interim committee on human trafficking. It passed through several House committees unanimously before receiving approval on the House floor by a 139-5 margin.
At least two other measures dealing with human trafficking have been produced by the Missouri legislature in recent years. In 2015, January was designated as human trafficking month. Also, advertising the availability of human trafficking victims was linked to the crime itself in 2016.
Democratic Senator Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis is sponsoring a bill in the current session that would allow those forced into prostitution to have their criminal records relate to the practice expunged. Nasheed helped organize a human trafficking rally at the state capitol last week.
The legislation requiring the display of posters passed on the Senate floor 31-0 Thursday. Senator Onder said it’ll provide a vital service to human trafficking victims.
“This bill will allow victims of human trafficking to get the information they need to escape the hellish human existence created for them by those who would exploit them for profit,” said Onder.
The House sponsor of the bill is Republican Patricia Pike of Adrian, who stepped in after the measure’s original champion, Republican Representative Cloria Brown of St. Louis, became seriously ill and was unable to shepard it through the legislature.
Democratic Senator Scott Sifton of Affton, whose district includes Brown’s House district, gave an emotional tribute to the representative on the Senate floor Thursday. He said Brown had tirelessly and relentlessly supported noble causes in her community.
“Those of you who are there and know her, know how true that is,” said Sifton. “You cannot turn around in the Genesis Banquet Center. You cannot at a Mehlville School function. You cannot turn around at a Lemay Housing Partnership function without Representative Brown being right there. And that has been true for a very, very long time.”
Democratic Senate Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh also threw her support behind the ailing Representative Brown. “I hope that she’s at home,” said Walsh. “I hope she reads something about this in her local paper. And I hope that she’s as proud of these chambers today as I am of her for moving this legislation forward.”
The human trafficking poster bill is the first piece of legislation this year to head to the governor‘s desk for signature, having done so less than a month into the current session which started January 4th.
The issue itself issue has also attracted attention with Missouri lawmakers in Washington. Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference recently, urging passage of a federal bill called the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.” That measure is aimed at making sure websites like Backpage can be held liable.