ST. PETERSBURG -- Florida victims of human trafficking will now be able to petition the court to expunge arrests and convictions from their record if the acts were committed under duress from a trafficker.
Gov. Rick Scott — joined by several legislators, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and law enforcement officers — signed into law both House bills 1325 and 1327 on Thursday afternoon at the Drug Free America Foundation headquarters in St. Petersburg. The first law seeks to help human trafficking victims who have trouble moving on with their lives because of their criminal record, while the second law keeps victims’ records private.
"Somebody who’s been involved in human trafficking—we want to get them back to normal as quickly as we can," Scott said. "Because of being trafficked, they end up with a criminal record that makes it very difficult for them to get a job, get into school, get on with their lives."
Florida is No. 3 in the country for frequency of human trafficking. The victims often have arrests and convictions for crimes they were forced to commit, such as prostitution, drug abuse, theft and truancy.
The laws were sponsored by Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and were supported unanimously in the state legislature.
At the bill-signing event, Rep. Darryl Rouson said human trafficking is the second-largest source of income for Mexican drug cartels. He urged citizens to fight human trafficking by supporting organizations like the Drug Free America Foundation.
Scott and other lawmakers also discussed recently approved funding for crime prevention programs. Scott noted that Florida crime has hit a 42-year low.
Scott was expected to present the Great Floridian award to anti-drug activist Betty Sembler, founder of the Drug Free America Foundation and wife of Mel Sembler, a local shopping center developer and political fundraiser. The award presentation was postponed because Sembler, 82, fell ill and had to be taken to the hospital.