Georgia governor’s human trafficking crackdown targets ‘modern slavery’

Nikki Burrell, center right, a victim of human trafficking, gets a hug from Georgia first lady Marty Kemp during a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol to announce legislative measures aimed at combating human trafficking. Gov. Brian Kemp, far left, has made the fight against human trafficking one of his top priorities for the legislative session that began last week. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp, his wife and his top Republican allies unveiled legislation Tuesday that would toughen penalties for sex traffickers and ease the rehabilitation of their victims, part of what he called an ongoing effort to “drag this evil industry into the light.”

The governor and First Lady Marty Kemp detailed the legislation at a press conference flanked by victims of sex trafficking and legislative leaders, underscoring how the trio of proposals are an election-year focus of his administration.

One part would require people convicted of some trafficking crimes to register as sex offenders, while another proposal would ban convicted sex traffickers from holding a commercial driver’s license if he or she was convicted of using a commercial vehicle to commit the offense.

A third provision would make it easier for victims of the crime to restrict access to their criminal records or secure a judicial order that sets aside judgments issued for the wrongly convicted. Marty Kemp said it would deliver a “much needed fresh start to those who need it most.”

The legislation will be introduced within days by three Republican lawmakers representing politically competitive districts: state Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens, state Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth and state Sen. Brian Strickland of Stockbridge.

Kemp has made targeting sex trafficking a key part of his second legislative session in office. As lawmakers returned to Atlanta last week to kick off the 40-day session, the governor and first lady unveiled a new training program to help identify victims of the crime.

The course was designed by members of the Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education Commission that the governor created shortly after his election to combat the crime. Kemp said his office's employees have completed the program, and he encouraged every state employee — roughly 80,000 of them — to do the same.

In his first months in office, Kemp also signed legislation that increased penalties for those convicted of pimping or pandering, gave the state new powers to provide emergency care for a child victim and broadened the definition of criminal gang activity to include the crime.

The governor cast this year’s proposals as building on that framework. The legislation would require people convicted of prostituting, pimping or pandering underage victims to register as sex offenders, along with those convicted of felony burglary with the intent to rape.

It also would restrict some people accused of improper sexual contact of an underage victim of claiming consent as a defense. The legislation would apply to foster parents accused of assaulting a child in their custody, as well as several other limited circumstances.

"Today is important," said Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, the No. 2 Republican in the Georgia House. "It's one big step to what will be many steps toward ending a scourge that the governor has referred to as modern slavery."

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