TOPEKA —Kansas lawmakers voted Monday to give police new tools to target human trafficking.
The Senate endorsed legislation that would create a new felony crime of coerced employment, punishable with prison time. Longer sentences would be possible when the trafficking is part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
Police also would be able to seize the assets of human trafficking rings. Law enforcement groups lobbied for that provision, noting the forfeiture of assets has proven to be a key tool in fighting drug rings.
The sponsor of the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, said the same tactic would apply well to human trafficking.
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"It's the critical piece" of the bill, said Schmidt, R-Independence. "Human trafficking is a crime of economic motivation. Forfeiture goes after the economic gain."
Schmidt 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 thousands of trafficking victims.
Kansas made human trafficking a crime in 2005, but police groups said they needed a more aggressive law. They noted that human trafficking investigations often are complicated by international borders and complex financial arrangements.
The legislation, SB 353, heads to a final vote in the Senate today.