Kansas lawmakers want to give law enforcement new tools to fight human trafficking.
A bill considered by a Senate committee Wednesday would make coerced employment a crime punishable by time in prison. Longer sentences would apply when the trafficking is part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
The bill also would allow police to seize the assets of human-trafficking rings.
Its sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said the new legislation was prompted by a five-part series last year in the Kansas City Star that found that the U.S. government has failed to find and help tens of thousands of human-trafficking victims.
Kansas made human trafficking a crime in 2005, but Schmidt said it has become apparent that law enforcement needs more tools to pursue what are often complex, international investigations.
"The problem of commercial trade of human beings is more widespread than most realize," Schmidt said. "This is a classic example of a financially motivated crime."
Police groups and a social worker who interact with trafficking victims spoke in favor of the measure. However, a defense attorney and the Kansas Livestock Association voiced concerns that the law could unintentionally snare businesses or individuals who unknowingly hire or transport illegal immigrants.
Schmidt said the bill can be revised to address such concerns.