North Carolina One of Ten Worse States in America for Human Trafficking
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action Leaguer
RALEIGH — One of the 10 worse states in America for human trafficking, North Carolina is making strides to address the problem with increased penalties for buying or selling a child and a new commission to research the crime and educate both law enforcement and the general public about how it can be eradicated.
Senate Bill 910, introduced by Sen. Bob Atwater (D-Chatham) after a woman in Chatham County was sentenced for trafficking her child, passed the House and the Senate this week and makes the unlawful sale, surrender or purchase of a minor a Class F Felony punishable by a fine of at least $5,000 and a prison term of roughly 10 months to three years depending on aggravating or mitigating factors. Prior to the bill’s passage, the sale of a child was only a Class 1 misdemeanor, comparable to driving while license revoked.
While the bill began with nearly unanimous support from both chambers, there were early concerns that its language might be misinterpreted to interfere with legal adoptions or child custody issues. Clarifying verbiage addressed that issue, and the Department of Health and Human Services asked that another section be added to the bill to deal with when and how they release confidential information regarding reports of child abuse and licensed foster homes.
Then, in a House subcommittee, another section was added to the bill that would have required DNA samples to be taken from suspects charged with a number of crimes related to children. Although advocates stressed that the DNA portion would, like the bill’s main thrust, help ensure the safety of children, members of the Senate balked at the changes after hearing from the State Bureau of Investigation.
“We estimated as many as 4,000 new samples of DNA would be taken at $40 a piece plus the people in the SBI to handle those, and the SBI is very concerned about that,” Sen. Martin Nesbit (D-Buncombe) told Senate members as he requested that they vote not to concur with the bill until that portion was removed.
Once the DNA provision was taken out in a conference committee, the Senate voted 41 to 0 to support the bill. The House followed suit, 113 to 0.
Also, during the Legislative session which ended Tuesday, lawmakers added a Human Trafficking Commission to the state budget. The 12-member group within the Department of Justice will include three members appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, three named by the Speaker of the House, one from the Governor and five department secretaries serving as ex officio members from Public Safety, Administration, Labor, Health and Human Services and the Attorney General. The Commission is to facilitate research to explore the ways human trafficking is occurring in North Carolina and its links to international and domestic crimes, to inform and educate law enforcement and social services personnel as well as the general public about the crime, to suggest new policies or laws to help stop human trafficking and to develop regional response teams to counter the crime.
Christian Action League lobbyist Sarah Bowman, who has been working with victims’ services organizations across the state for the several months, called the creation of the commission a “huge advancement in the fight against human trafficking in North Carolina” and said the group will serve the “desperately needed role of changing intragovernmental policies to better address human trafficking as well as recommending legislative changes based on the data collected.”
Supporters of the commission got a scare late last month when Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed House Bill 950, the legislation making adjustments to the two-year state budget enacted in 2011, but were relieved when both the House and Senate voted to override her veto. Six Democrats joined all Republicans in the House to nix the veto. The override passed easily in the Senate.
“Although I would not want to diminish the importance of other work the Christian Action League has done over the years, I am most excited about our efforts to spearhead legislation addressing this modern day form of slavery – human trafficking. Sarah Bowman’s work in this field has been extraordinary,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The heart of the gospel message is freedom. It is only right we be about our Father’s business – helping people that are trapped, being used and abused, find freedom.”