The House Judiciary B Committee took up this year’s Human Trafficking related bill on Thursday morning and then members addressed the bill on the floor passing it by a vote of 89 to 18 . HB 1559 is an act that would address gaps in service for minor victims of trafficking through a statewide coalition and designate efforts of a specialized emergent response team through Child Protective Services and other agencies.

“Last year I made a promise to the people of this state after we passed HB 571 that we would follow it up with strong policy and victim’s services – this bill does that,
said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.”

Through the Dept. of Finance and Administration, the Mississippians Against Human Trafficking (MAHT) would be authorized to establish a program that will provide counseling, medical needs, transitional housing and other related services to the victims.

There is currently no facility in the state of Mississippi that can take in minor victims of human trafficking. There is only one adult facility, and that is run by the Mississippi Center for Violence Prevention.

“We’re thrilled that the legislature has kept its promise to advance our state’s protocols and practices to support the strong policy of last year’s HB 571.  Our children are precious and must be protected.  Speaker Gunn’s HB 1559 does that.  This bill is the culmination of months of work with national experts and programs, and it’s based in evidence-based practices.  We know that these victims need separate, specialized and immediate intervention in order to have a positive resolution.  It’s simply not enough to follow the same ineffective plan and hope for different results.  Since this is a comprehensive bill, we are asking the Legislature to pass it as is, and are grateful for their support on this issue,” said Sandy Middleton, Center for Violence Prevention’s Executive Director

Sandy Middleton, Center for Violence Prevention

The program would work hand in hand with the Commissioner of Child Protection Services (CPS) to develop standards of investigation. They would define regulations on how victims are treated in custody and under the care of CPS. These new standards and procedures would put children who are victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation under specialized care within the department.

The bill also creates the Victims of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation Fund that will be funded by fees and fines that are attached to crimes against children. This special fund would be housed within the state Treasury which would fund the program established by MAHT. Those fines are defined in the bill and apply to those who commit trafficking crimes against minors. The fine would be in the total of $1,000.

“House Bill 1559 is strong legislation.  It’s appropriate that fees and fines from perpetrators will be funding these efforts to help children recover from the horrors of sex trafficking.  We appreciate the support from the Capitol and hope this bill will gather strong and swift support.” said Ron Crew, Mississippians Against Human Trafficking President.

Last year Mississippi passed HB 571 known as the Human Trafficking Bill. The primary points of that bill removed prostitution as a charge for anyone under 18, instead it identifies those individuals as victims and moves to put them in protective custody, it added required training on trafficking for law enforcement and also moved the State Human Trafficking Coordinator position under the Department of Public Safety.

That legislation put Mississippi on the map as a leader in the fight to end trafficking, while this years bill hopes to expand its impact in the day to day lives of minor victims.

The partnering organization in this project, Mississippians Against Human Trafficking, was created to serve as a collaboration between regional task forces, law enforcement, victim services providers, state agencies, schools, churches, medical professionals and individuals who work with victims or potential victims. They are a support to the mission of ending trafficking not only in this state but the world.

“Mississippians Against Human Trafficking is a 501(3) (c) that was formed to meet a vital need for the children and other victims of human trafficking in our state. MSAHT is made up of a distinguished, multidisciplinary group of individuals who are well known in the state as champions of the human trafficking effort,” said Speaker Gunn. “This coalition functions in the same manner as other existing state coalitions, such as the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence. They were chosen as a funding mechanism because of their ability to move quickly in processing money, taking donations and making this happen.”

“We look forward to working with everyone involved to give this population of Mississippians the care and healing they deserve,” said Crew.

If the bill passes in the Senate it will go immediately to the Governor to be put into effect as soon as possible.