Lawmakers are considering forming a statewide task force on human trafficking that could open the door for new federal funding opportunities to aid trafficking survivors.
The bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to form the task force, AB143, also includes a provision for developing a statewide plan for the delivery of services to victims of human trafficking. Those services would include resources for medical care, housing and legal services, and the plan would also aim to develop strategies to increase awareness about human trafficking and the services available to survivors.
“Human trafficking has been described as a form of modern day slavery, impacting our most vulnerable population,” Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) said during a legislative hearing on Tuesday. “And it is a serious problem in Nevada that warrants the full attention of state government.”
Krasner was unable to identify what federal grants would be available after the formation of the state task force, but funding could potentially come from the Crime Victims Fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. The fund includes support for state-level services for trafficking survivors, including crisis intervention and counseling.
During the hearing, James Dold, founder of the non-profit Human Rights for Kids, told his own story of surviving human trafficking as a child living in Las Vegas.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to have a plan in place for the delivery of services and the identification of trafficking survivors,” Dold said. “By having a victim services plan … we are increasing the likelihood that that trust between the victim and law enforcement will be created, and that they will be able to participate meaningfully in the prosecution of their traffickers.”
The bill attracted a broad group of supporters, including the attorney general’s office, the Clark and Washoe County public defenders’ offices, Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospital and the Nevada Women’s Lobby.
Krasner also pointed to the growing need for a state response to human trafficking, as more federal human trafficking cases were charged in Nevada last year than in any previous year, with seven prosecutions in 2020. An earlier study from UNLV found that Nevada tied for the ninth in the nation for most human trafficking cases in 2017.
In 2019, there were 239 human trafficking incidents reported in Nevada, and of those, 200 involved sex trafficking, putting the rate of sex trafficking in the state far above the national average, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The only opposition to the bill came from Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who voiced concerns that a statewide task force could interfere with local human trafficking task forces in Nothern and Southern Nevada.
During a news conference on Tuesday after the hearing, Krasner said that a statewide task force could help address the issue in the rural areas of the state — and that there are federal funds that are only available to state-level task forces.
The amended version of the bill proposed by Krasner removes a projected price tag by making the services provided permissive rather than mandatory, which means services for survivors of human trafficking would be made available as the state receives federal funds or allocates tax dollars towards programs.
Callaway also voiced concerns that the bill does not specify who the members of the state task force would be.
During the hearing, Krasner said that the task force would be made up of “interested parties and stakeholders” and that the task force would allow stakeholders to collaborate on efforts to aid human trafficking survivors.
She added that the decisions about how the task force is run would be left to the Division of Child and Family Services, and the amended version of the bill includes a provision for the division to designate a human trafficking specialist within the Nevada Victims of Crime Compensation Program.
Tuesday’s hearing marked the first discussion of the legislation. The Assembly Committee on Government Affairs did not hold a vote on the bill.