Human Trafficking Bill Advances In North Dakota

By John Celock

Legislation to set up a relief fund for human trafficking victims is headed to the North Dakota governor’s desk.

State lawmakers have given approval to legislation that would create a $1.25 million relief fund to assist in providing support services for victims of human trafficking in the state. The legislation, part of an ongoing effort to get state governments to provide more services for victims of human trafficking, would allow for funds to be provided to groups offering long term crisis services to victims, residential care, advocacy services and health services. In addition funds would be provided to train law enforcement officers to identify victims of human trafficking.

Rep. Jessica Haak (D-Jamestown), a co-sponsor of the legislation told The Celock Report that a major problem in North Dakota has been providing the services for the victims in order to get them to testify in court. She said that without the victims’ testimony it is tough to prosecute a case and the victims need assistance programs in order to get on their feet and be supported during the court process.

“They can testify to help put these people away,” Haak said.

Haak worked on the legislation with state Senate President Pro Temp Dick Dever (R-Bismarck), who was the main sponsor. She noted that the bill proved popular with lawmakers who provided more funds than Dever wrote into the original legislation.

“In North Dakota, while many things are cut in the budget, this bill started at a million but in the House Appropriations Committee they put in $250,000 more because they want to crack down on this problem,” Haak said.

A list of state human trafficking laws compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that several states have created funds as part of efforts to combat human trafficking. States without dedicated funds have established other ways to provide services.

State based human trafficking legislation has gained steam in the last decade, with law enforcement and advocates saying the legislation is needed to allow state law enforcement to work closely with federal law enforcement on the issue. During last year’s NCSL conference in Minneapolis, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cindy McCain presented a workshop for state lawmakers on the reasons to increase state services for human trafficking victims.

McCain, the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was appointed last year to co-chair the Arizona Governor’s Human Trafficking Council by then Gov. Jan Brewer (R). Brewer had previously tapped McCain to co-chair a state task force on human trafficking.

Klobuchar has been working with U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) on federal human trafficking issues. Heitkamp and Klobuchar have introduced federal legislation that would classify minors sold in to sex trafficking rings as victims and not criminals and provide support services for them. In addition, the two senators along with McCain have traveled to Mexico to meet with Mexican law enforcement officials on international solutions to the issue. Heitkamp’s Senate website notes that she has been working on human trafficking prevention since her tenure as North Dakota’s attorney general in the 1990s.

Haak said that Heitkamp’s work on the human trafficking issue has helped raise awareness in the state and among lawmakers.

“Through watching what Heidi is doing I saw that we need to push to get money for the victims here,” Haak told The Celock Report. “Heidi bringing this issue forward, she spearheaded it for us.”