A bill that would have allowed Florida human trafficking survivors to sue hotels and other businesses where they were sold for sex is essentially dead. It was pulled from the Senate Rules Committee agenda Thursday, which was its final stop before going to the Senate floor for a vote.
The partner bill that was filed in the House had already passed two committees and was likely headed to the House floor.
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The Senate Rules Committee is not scheduled to meet again before the end of the legislative session.
Survivors of sex trafficking have spoken out to Tallahassee lawmakers about how they often believed hotel staff members knew they were being victimized, including survivors in Central Florida.
“I feel like if there was a bill in place like this one, somebody would have spoken up sooner, and it would’ve ended years sooner than it did,” survivor Savannah Parvu said.
State Sen. Lauren Book was behind SB 1044, and pulled it from the Rules Committee agenda Thursday. She has not responded to Channel 9’s request for comment.
On Friday, advocates, survivors and attorneys questioned whether lobbying interests swayed the outcome.
9 Investigates obtained text messages and emails showing the House version’s sponsor, Rep. Ross Spano, was lobbied by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association about the bill. His office also confirms that in at least one meeting with the FRLA lobbyist, an attorney representing Disney was also in the room. The Disney representative did not actively lobby Spano on the bill.
9 Investigates has requested similar records from Book’s office.
“It should be really important, because we're the tourist capital, and we don't want these criminals to have sanctuary in our city,” Florida Abolitionist CEO Tomas Lares said.
Book’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
FRLA sent 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.”
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