New Human Trafficking bill moves forward - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

New Human Trafficking bill moves forward

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Roanoke Valley law enforcement and prosecutors met Wednesday as part of a newly formed human trafficking task force. They are working together to shape how it will be organized.

Meanwhile, new human trafficking legislation passed a senate committee this week. The bill pushing for stricter laws was introduced by State Senator John Edwards and incorporates proposed changes by state Senator Mark Obenshain.

"It's become a very serious problem more so than people realize," said Senator John Edwards who represents the Roanoke Valley proposed new legislation after a Roanoke County police officer pulled over a van with seventeen people crammed inside. At the time Officer Jessica Price was frustrated there were no laws to prevent what was happening.

"I determined this might be a human trafficking situation.  We were able to interview the driver of the vehicle, which had told us each one of these individuals had been sold for $200, and they were going to be traveling to an unknown location," said Officer Price during a July interview with WSLS.

The people in the van told Officer Price they were going to meet the president and get a job. Officer Price said there was nothing to charge the driver with so they all got back in the van and drove away.

We took the case to Senator Edwards.

"We looked into it further. My first impression was,  we do have statutes on point, abduction, kidnapping and so forth but inquiring further and talking to police and doing further study the problem was that people who are the victims were not initially willing to testify because they didn't think they were being abducted," said Senator Edwards.

Senator Edwards' bill would add the words human trafficking into Virginia law, define human trafficking, coercion and fraud.

"We had to find a way to update the language so you could capture those people who were taking people, promising them one thing and then not delivering and delivering them into some kind of involuntary servitude," said Senator Edwards.

The bill recently passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and Officer Price traveled to Richmond to testify in front of lawmakers.

"Her testimony was very important. She put it in a context so that people could understand it. I appreciate her coming down. Bringing her before a Senate Courts of Justice Committee was very important. I want to thank her and her superiors for allowing her to come," said Senator Edwards.

In the end it may be that a single traffic stop leads to greater protections for all Virginians.

"It's very important that we can take something that happened in the Roanoke Valley and see that there's a problem not just in Roanoke but it's a problem throughout the Commonwealth. This is a national and even an international problem. It's really a tremendous opportunity to advance the ball, to improve the criminal justice system in Virginia, and protect victims of human trafficking," said Senator Edwards.

The Senate Finance Committee will hear the bill next week. Senator Edwards is hopeful the bill will pass later this year.

Officer Price told me she's thankful she's getting to share her experience and create change.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee is also working on bill proposed by Del. Mamye BaCote. The Delegate's office tells WSLS the house and senate bills are the same. Roanoke Delegate Sam Rasoul is co-sponsoring the bill along with more than three dozen other delegates.

We'll of course continue to follow this issue and the bills as they move thru the General Assembly.

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