• Human trafficking bill puts spotlight on Florida's hospitality industry

    By: Lorena Inclán , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    Florida is often cited as one of the worst states for human trafficking.

    Connie Rose was a human trafficking victim. She was sold as a sex slave by her own father.

    “I was dropped off in front of hotels, motels. I grew up in Tampa so in the Tampa Bay area,” Rose said.

    She said in her case, people turned a blind eye, including those who would see her, a teenager at the time, going in and out of hotel rooms.

    “You’re not going to ask, 'Are you OK?' And that’s the same thing that is still happening today,” Rose said. 

    Senate Bill 1044 aims to change that by trying to educate hotels and motels on what to look for.

    “This training program is not just for front desk personnel. We are pushing for it to be from the top down and for everyone,” Rose said.

    If approved, the bill would allow victims to sue establishments that don’t follow certain prevention and training protocols.

    “Every single person can be the eyes, can see something can say something,” Rose said. 

    The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said currently the bill is vague as it relates to a hotel property’s liability.

    An FRLA spokesperson sent Action News Jax the following statement:

    “Human traffickers often rely on legitimate businesses to sustain their operations and unfortunately, hotels and lodging are one of the various venues that traffickers use to exploit their victims. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is deeply committed to working with stakeholders and lawmakers to ensure the safety and security of our hotel employees and guests. 

    As of right now, this legislation leaves the door open as it relates to the hotel property’s liability. During the legislative process, FRLA supported proposed changes that would safeguard the owner and/or operator from liability and unfounded lawsuits if they do not have any knowledge that human trafficking is occurring on the property and; if a mandatory training is already being implemented.

    It’s simple - if a hotel doesn’t comply and work to train its employees, it is in jeopardy of losing its license to operate in Florida – and there is no harsher penalty than forcing a bad operator to close its doors.

    The hospitality industry is eager to continue collaboration with our state and local community partners to find meaningful solutions to eradicate this horrible crime. With 113 million visitors coming to our state each year, Florida’s hospitality industry must serve as a leader in the fight to combat human trafficking and it is critical that our industry continues to raise awareness through education and training.”

    Rose hopes all sides can come together to beef up protections for the victims.

    “Being proactive and not being reactive is really the best policy to have,” said Rose.

    S.B. 1044 also encompasses labor trafficking. 

    So far, the bill has been postponed in the Senate Rules Committee. 
     

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