Gov. Rick Snyder today signed legislation protecting Michigan citizens from human trafficking and supporting victims by putting some of the strongest policies in the nation into place to combat this crime. Much of the legislation stems from a 2013 report by the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.
"It is unacceptable that a dangerous and appalling practice like human trafficking continues to be a prevalent problem across our state and nation," Snyder said. "I'm extremely proud to sign this comprehensive bipartisan bill package, making Michigan one of the leading states in fighting this tragic crime. This effort holds criminals accountable while giving victims the support they need to overcome these horrific experiences."
Snyder signed Senate Bill 584, sponsored by state Sen. Judy Emmons and House Bill 5158, sponsored by state Rep. Kurt Heise during the Women Strengthening Michigan forum in Oakland County. The legislation makes human trafficking punishable by imprisonment for life and permanently creates the state Human Trafficking Commission within the Attorney General's Office. They are now Public Acts 324 and 325.
"This victim-centered legislation brings us one step closer to accomplishing the goals we outlined last year with the Commission on Human Trafficking and marks positive progress toward ending modern day-slavery in Michigan," Attorney General Bill Schuette said. "Young women who are forced into modern-day slavery are victims, not criminals. This legislation strengthens victim protections and toughens penalties for traffickers, both key reforms that will help fight human trafficking."
This problem was partially brought to light by former Michigander Theresa Flores, a victim of human trafficking in Michigan who has written a book about her experiences to stop these crimes from happening in the future. Flores' story was part of the inspiration for this endeavor.
"Thirty-four years ago I was trafficked in Michigan. Even though I was a commodity to men, I felt as if I had no value," Flores said. "When I reached out to the police 28 years ago, I was told they couldn't help me. I thought no one cared. It took me 26 years to realize I was a trafficking survivor. Today, the state of Michigan passes one of the strongest laws against trafficking and I can truly say, they DO care!" Prior to the forum, the governor signed the remaining 19 bills within the package which strengthen punishments and provide support for victims. They are now PAs 326-344.
Bills strengthening punishments for human trafficking offenders include:
-Making it a felony to solicit a person under 18 years old for prostitution (SB 205, sponsored by Emmons and SB 206, sponsored by state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker);
-Making soliciting a Tier I sexual offense, and recruiting a minor for a commercial sex trade or forced labor a Tier II offense, both requiring registration as a sex offender (SB 602, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hune);
-Making penalties for human trafficking consistent (HB 5234, sponsored by state Rep. Nancy Jenkins);
-Classifying restraining a minor for the purpose of producing child pornography as kidnapping (HB 4021, sponsored by state Rep. George Darany);
-Increasing the fine from $2,500 to $5,000 for operating a place of prostitution and removing gender from the description of prostitution in the Michigan Penal Code to ensure all offenders receive the same punishment for operating a place for prostitution (HB 5231, sponsored by state Rep. Joseph Graves);
-Ensuring the Judicature Act includes human trafficking provisions (HB 5236, sponsored by state Rep. Ed McBroom);
-Holding individuals who do not report human trafficking practices accountable by allowing seizure of personal property or possessions (HB 5233, sponsored by state Rep. Klint Kesto).
"Over the past three years, I've met with survivors of human trafficking and anti-trafficking activists across Michigan to develop solutions to help end this horrible crime, which devastates the lives of thousands of women and children every year," Emmons said. "I am filled with gratitude that these landmark reforms to end this modern-day slavery and support its survivors are now law."
Bills providing support for victims include:
-Vacating prostitution-related offenses from a victim's record (SB 585, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Nofs);
-Allowing a victim's convictions as a result of forced trafficking to be set aside (HB 5025, sponsored by Heise);
-Presuming that individuals under 18 years old with prostitution offenses were coerced into the activity (HB 5012, sponsored by state Rep. Eileen Kowall);
-Ensuring that trafficking victims within the foster care system receive appropriate counseling (SB 587, sponsored by state Sen. Vincent Gregory);
-Ensuring potential homes for a victim in foster care will provide the necessary mental health, counseling or other services necessary resulting from being trafficked (SB 593, sponsored by state Sen. Rebekah Warren);
-Creating the Human Trafficking Victims Compensation Act, making victims eligible for compensation from those who trafficked them (SB 590, sponsored by state Sen. John Proos and HB 5237, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Cavanaugh);
-Ensuring access to medical assistance benefits for psychological and medical treatments through Medicaid or other insurance coverage as a result of being trafficked (SB 592, sponsored by Proos);
-Expanding juvenile court jurisdictions to protect children who are victims of human trafficking (HB 5026, sponsored by Heise);
-Requiring the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to work in conjunction with health professional boards to adopt rules to raise awareness training standards for health professionals to identify victims of human trafficking (SB 597, sponsored by Warren);
-Ensuring the Michigan Department of Human Services reports suspected or investigated cases of child abuse or neglect involving human trafficking to local law enforcement (HB 5239, sponsored by state Rep. Ken Kurtz).
"As the father of two teenage daughters, a lawyer, and co-chairman of the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission, this legislation is personal for me," Heise said. "I can't imagine anyone's child suffering at the hands of this horrible crime. I applaud Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Schuette for standing up for the victims of human trafficking, mostly young girls and other vulnerable adults."
Thursday marked the third Women Strengthening Michigan conversation forum highlighting female leaders and innovators discussing various policy issues and the vital role women play in strengthening Michigan. For more information visit www.michigan.gov/MIStrong.
For more information on the legislation, visit www.legislature.michigan.gov.