The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday gave final passage to a bill that would establish more severe penalties for those found guilty of obstructing an investigation into human trafficking.
The bill, SB179 from Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would also target those involved in child sex trafficking rings. The legislation was a part of the Senate Republicans’ “Fighting for Alabama” agenda during this year’s legislative sessions.
The bill now heads to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.
“We want to give law enforcement every tool they need to ensure no child is ever harmed in this manner,” Ward said.
It received broad bipartisan support from both chambers and was delivered to the governor for her signature Wednesday.
Currently, a Class C felony, punishable by only a year in prison, the legislation if signed would make the maximum offense of first-degree obstructing a human tracking investigation a Class A felony instead, meaning a conviction would likely result in more than ten years in prison.
Punishment of a second-degree obstruction of a human tracking investigation would also be enhanced with the bill.
Ward said the bill closes loopholes in the current law.
“This week we’ve taken another crucial step in ending this horrific practice,” Ward said. “By increasing penalties for those who would aid traffickers, we will hold them just as accountable as the traffickers themselves.”
The average age of a sex trafficking victim is between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, and it is estimated that two children are trafficked into sexual exploitation every minute.
As part of their agenda, the Senate Republicans had originally hoped to make human trafficking a capital offense. That legislation was never filed, though.
Other states, including Utah, have pursued making human trafficking a capital offense punishable by the death penalty if a victim dies, though the law has not yet been passed.
Capital offenses in Alabama include murders in the process of other crimes including rape, kidnapping, robbery and burglary.