Saturday, May 1, 2010

Michael Ciamarra: The 2010 winner is Rep. Jack Williams and the ban on human trafficking

  The 2010 regular session of the Alabama Legislature ended as it began: with three big issues looming over everything else. The bills were often accompanied by boisterous and contentious political posturing and the rhetoric was colorful and at times, way over the top. Weary legislators faced a final gambling vote (take care of special interests), ten-year road projects (special interests approving election year goodies), and a short-term solution to the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition shortfalls (44,000 PACT contract holders and well-organized grassroots lobbying efforts) in the final two days of the session.

  The gambling bill and the gambling interests' hubris fizzled out in the House while the $1 billion road project bill passed and will be on the November ballot for voters to ratify. The PACT solution will take $547.6 million over 13 years from the Education Trust Fund budget in order to subsidize the faltering program and before the session ended, it was already being challenged by legislative opponents who see it leading to federal lawsuits.

  Something significant happened on the last day and I want to make you aware of it.

  Every year I like to give an informal award to the best legislation passed during the regular session of the Alabama Legislature. The bill I have in mind did not get high profile attention, it was not calculated to give one political party a leg up on the other and it did not try to pit groups against each other. Rather, this bill, which addressed the real tragedy of human trafficking, was passed quietly and resolutely on the last day. It was about time.

  I became aware of human trafficking in 2008 as part of our work on illegal immigration. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and is actually modern day slavery. Billions of dollars are generated each year by this exploitive practice. It was incomprehensible that this was going on in Alabama but we had some high-profile human-trafficking cases, such as the raid of a brothel at an Albertville mobile home. The problem, however, wasn't confined to the illegal immigrant communities.

  Alabama is a source, conduit and destination state for trafficking of foreign nationals as well as the internal trafficking of U.S. citizens. Statistics are very hard to come by because this well-hidden crime has a fearful victim population. According to advocacy groups and law enforcement, there is no way to factually determine how many victims there are in Alabama. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received many calls from Alabama since December 2007.

  Recently, law enforcement reported that Dmarcus Antwain Ward, 25, of Minden, La., brought two girls, age 16 and 17, from Atlanta to Birmingham and back on separate occasions between September and November 2009 for prostitution. Ward advertised one of the girls on a website and brought her to a Motel 6 in the area, authorities allege. This disheartening and maddening story was a real wake up call to state lawmakers. Until now, it had been relegated to the shadows of society. 

  Building upon earlier work by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, Rep. Jack Williams, R-Hoover, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, joined with advocacy groups against human trafficking and Barry Matson of the Alabama District Attorneys Association to craft legislation addressing the specifics of this particular crime and activity.  

  As explained by Barry Matson, Deputy Director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, Alabama had no provision that made it unlawful for a person, by coercion or deception, to cause another person to perform sexual services/servitude or to work under conditions of labor servitude.  

  Even though it was an election year with all of its rhetoric, common sense prevailed. On the last day of the session, the Alabama Senate passed this landmark legislation to combat the exploiters of human trafficking. 

  It is now unlawful for a person by coercion or deception, to cause another person (individual) to work or perform services having financial value or require that person to perform certain sexual activities and this law provides appropriate penalties for these actions. Alabama's passage of this ban on human trafficking has added Alabama to the 43 states that have already passed a ban on human trafficking exploitation.  

  This comprehensive approach combats human trafficking in Alabama and defines 'coercion' and 'deception' with regard to how a child or adult may be forced into being a victim of human trafficking. The law creates new human trafficking crimes and penalties, punishing both sex and labor trafficking. In addition to other provisions, the bill also includes:

  · mandatory restitution to victims;

  · restitution to the law enforcement agency for the costly investigation of such crime: (the cost can be prohibitive in some situations with travel, interpreters and experts);

  · a civil cause of action for victims; and

  · asset seizure and forfeiture.

  These provisions will collectively empower law enforcement, prosecutors, human trafficking victim service providers, and Alabama communities to identify and respond quickly to human trafficking by forcefully targeting this criminal activity.

  There is another category of legislative "awards" and that is the best legislation that should have been passed but the legislative leadership, for reasons known only to themselves, failed to take up the bills. The awards for this particular category would be very long indeed. However, Rep. Greg Canfield's, R-Vestavia Hills, remarkable and transformational 21st century education budget reform, The Rolling Reserve Budget Act, is by far at the top of the list.  Not to worry - next year it will pass.

  It's easy enough, as armchair critics, to disparage the Alabama Legislature, but when they work together to address real down-to-earth problems, they deserve our approbation and thanks. The Jack Williams-Merika Coleman Ban on Human Trafficking Act wins my 2010 Best Legislation Award... hands down.

  About the author: Michael Ciamarra is vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama chair for American Solutions. He can be reached at The author wishes to thank Barry Matson, Deputy Director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association for his hard work, help and analysis of the bill.

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