On Thursday, Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 571, the Human Trafficking bill, into law.

The bill was introduced in the House by Speaker Philip Gunn, who made the bill of top priority to him this year. HB 571 did several things to ensure the proper treatment of victims, and adequate training for law enforcement in regards to trafficked individuals.

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“We will stop arresting the victim. A young lady can be 16 years old and charged with prostitution is obviously a victim of trafficking,” said Governor Phil Bryant. “This will save lives and have a dramatic affect on so many children and young adults.”

One of the biggest pieces of the bill, was making it illegal to charge a person under the age of 18 with prostitution. This was also one of the more debated points of the bill as well. The bill also added required training hours for law enforcement as well as 12 hours for foster parents. It also moved the office of Mississippi Human Trafficking Coordinator to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and out of the Attorney General’s office. Statutes were also put in place for Child Protection Services to allow a better record of investigating and prosecuting those individuals responsible.

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The bill originally had no fiscal note attached, however at the end of session $250,000 was also appropriated to the Department of Public Service, for two MBI positions, directly correlated with the fight to end trafficking. DHS was also awarded $250,000 contingent upon the passage of HB 571 to establish a 24-hour hotline as well as a coordinator position.

“Democrats and Republicans all came together to pass this bill,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “Governor you just need to know this is a big effort by a lot of people and I don’t know of anything we are going to do this session thats going to impact lives more directly and more meaningfully than this bill right here.”

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“We are obviously ecstatic about his signature on this ibll. We have worked very hard since October since the Speaker had his Summit on Human Trafficking. It has truly been a collaborative effort,” said Sandy Middleton, Executive Director of the Center for Violence Prevention.”I think the Speakers driving force behind it and the strong collaboration are the reasons we’ve accomplished this today.”

The Senate also had a bill that was geared more toward outlining the legal repercussions for individuals charged with trafficking crimes and also makes requirements that the Human Trafficking Coordinator be notified by CPS, a mechanism for receiving those reports would be established.

That bill, SB 2305, went to Conference and was approved by both chambers.