Nonprofit organization More Too Life celebrating passage of anti-trafficking bills in Florida legislature

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Bills awaiting Governor Rick Scott's signature address signage that will help human trafficking victims in Florida get help, establish tougher criminal penalties for those who perpetuate sexual slavery

"[This legislation] sends a very strong message that, in Florida, we will not allow the demand for the purchase of sex to drive and increase the market for sex trafficking victims," said Florida Representative Ross Spano.

On Thursday, May 21, More Too LifeTM will hold two press conferences to discuss the passage of anti-human trafficking bills in the Florida House and Senate. These events will take place at United Way Suncoast in Tampa (5201 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 600, Tampa) at 11:00am and United Way Suncoast in Sarasota (1800 2nd St., Suite 102, Sarasota) at 4:00pm. In attendance at the Tampa event will be Florida Representative Ross Spano, who co-sponsored both House bills, and state Senator Jack Latvala, who co-sponsored one of the Senate bills.

The legislation includes HB 0369 / SB 534, which seeks to heighten public awareness regarding human trafficking in the State of Florida through required signage which alerts victims that they are, in fact, victims. Also awaiting the governor's signature is HB 0465 / SB 1106, which amends earlier legislation relating to prostitution, by enhancing the criminal penalties for a person who solicits, induces, entices, or procures another to commit prostitution, lewdness, or assignation.

Comprehensive details about the bills can be found on the Florida Senate website: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0369 and http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0465.

These bills, which are on Governor Rick Scott’s desk awaiting his signature, passed unanimously. Dr. Brook Bello, founder and CEO of More Too Life, expressed gratitude toward the bills’ sponsors – particularly since the passage of these bills was a bi-partisan effort – and also toward The Advocacy Group of Tampa, with whom More Too Life is registered to work on bills that impact our state in a healthy way.

“I am hopeful that Governor Scott, who cares about women and children, will sign soon and I hope to be there,” said Dr. Bello. “This legislation enables Florida to be a continued top tourist destination. It also lets others know we will no longer tolerate the abuse of our children or women in trouble. I know all too well the pain and suffering a child goes through when they have dealt with sexual exploitation and the root causes of child sexual abuse. These bills will provide the kind of awareness and services that save lives, and help us along with law enforcement, Department of Children and Families, Safe Children Coalition, and our justice system.”

On bill HB 0369 / SB 534, the required signage would include the phone number of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). Previously in Florida, calls for help were routed to several different organizations; having one number will centralize the process and make it easier to provide services for those who need it.

More Too Life founder and CEO Dr. Brook Bello has partnered with Polaris Project, which regulates the NHTRC, the national standard that helps victims to receive services in all 50 states. After Dr. Bello shared the news of the bill’s passage with Polaris Project CEO Bradley Myles, he helped to secure the statement below:

"It's critical victims and survivors of human trafficking know there is help available when they need it. Survivors calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center can talk through the options available to them in their area and help get connected with services and support," said Leah Meyer, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's program specialist overseeing Florida operations. "Posting the NHTRC hotline number (1-888-373-7888) in places where survivors and the community can see it makes important strides towards raising even more awareness about human trafficking and the services available to help victims rebuild their lives."

"Should the Governor sign [House Bill 369], we will provide a direct route to assistance, prevention, and liberation for victims of human trafficking and also educate the community on the realities of human trafficking, empowering them to be the eyes and ears of Florida,” said Representative Dave Kerner (D-Palm Beach), who co-sponsored the bill in the House. “I applaud the tremendous support that groups such as More Too Life have provided in making sure this bill was passed, and passed unanimously! Without their support, I can categorically state that we would not have been successful in our efforts. On behalf of Senator Latvala, as well, I issue a sincere and grateful ‘THANK YOU’ for the work of More Too Life. As a result of the hard work and determination of all the stakeholders, Florida will be at forefront of victim outreach, and I truly believe that countless lives will be saved from this horrendous form of modern-day slavery."

More Too Life, with the assistance of The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners, advocated to change the language of HB 0465 / SB 1106 to include "prostitution," which is critical in ensuring those who perpetuate human trafficking can be punished.

"Much of the success fighting human trafficking in recent years has been focused on helping victims of trafficking and increasing penalties against traffickers and 'pimps.' However, until this year, we hadn't addressed the 'demand' for the purchase of sex. In the Florida House, we believe the demand for sex directly impacts the human trafficking market," explained Representative Ross Spano, who co-sponsored both House bills awaiting the governor's signature. "House Bill 465 directly confronts this problem. Upon becoming law, this legislation enhances criminal penalties for soliciting another to commit prostitution. It sends a very strong message that, in Florida, we will not allow the demand for the purchase of sex to drive and increase the market for sex trafficking victims."

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Sharon Kunkel
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