During the 2018 Legislative Session I traveled back and forth to Tallahassee on four separate occasions with two fellow survivors and two advocates. We advocated on behalf of a bill sponsored by Senator Book and Representative Spano that would allow survivors of human trafficking to sue lodging establishments that knew human trafficking was happening at their establishment and turned a blind eye to it.
That bill ultimately died on the final day of session.
I worked with Senator Book throughout the year to develop a different bill for the 2019 session. Senator Book filed the bill and Representative Fitzenhagen agreed to be the House Sponsor.
During the first committee meeting I spoke at the bill was opposed by “Consensual Sex Workers” and THEIR advocates. Yes, “consensual sex workers” were there telling law makers this bill will hurt them, their community and human trafficking victims. It was even said people should not report human trafficking… it should be up to the victim to get help if they want it.
The bill passed through the committee unanimously!
When the bill went before the House Appropriations Committee I spoke on behalf of the bill and shared about being trafficked at a hotel in Central Florida when I was twelve years old. I told the committee that the hotel staff actually assisted my trafficker in trafficking me.
Carol Dover, CEO and President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association was at the meeting and waived in support of the bill.
The bill passed through committee unanimously!
After the meeting Carol Dover stated that if FRLA was not given immunity they would no longer support the bill.
I was left feeling torn. As much as I wanted the bill to pass I wouldn’t be able to support it knowing that survivors would not be able to hold hotels accountable.
The bill drastically changed as Representative Fitzenhagen worked hard to keep at least part of it alive pass it through session, but time was running out.
On Thursday, April 25th (one week before session ended) I went into the hospital for a major high-risk surgery to remove a tumor. I knew at that point there was nothing else I could do relating to the bill, but it seemed as if the bill wasn’t going to make it through session anyway. Although Representative Fitzenhagen was still working on it, it never made it to last committee on the Senate Side.
On Wednesday, May 1st I received a request for document and I received word that Senator Book made a way to get the bill put on the calendar for Thursday, May 2nd.
The bill bounced back and forth from the Senate to the House while they worked to come up with a final version they agreed on.
In the final minutes of the 2019 Legislative Session the Human Trafficking Bill we have been working on all year finally passed through and is now on Governor Ron DeSantis’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a start in the right direction.
The bill has requirements for lodging establishments to train their employees on human trafficking, it has requirements for massage parlors, it creates a buyer and seller database, it requires more training for law enforcement, it creates a direct-service organization, it requires more signs and it does more.
It’s encouraging to know that our state law makers are taking a stand against human trafficking. Between the Senate and House there was only 1 NAY in the vote on the bill. House Representative Anna Eskamani from district 47 voted NO on the bill.
No matter how much push back I get from those in opposition I will never stop fighting for the things I needed when I was being trafficked!