Senate votes to tighten Georgia’s sex trafficking laws

Georgia would force convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders and also require them to pay into a state fund helping victims get back on their feet, among other proposals passed Thursday by the state Senate.

The combination of Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7 — both sponsored by state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, a longtime victims’ advocate — would establish a new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund, which would get money through new $2,500 fines on convicted traffickers and an annual $5,000 fee on adult entertainment establishments.

The money would then pay for physical and mental health care, housing, education, job training, child care, legal help and other services for victims.

It has other components, including a mandate that convicted traffickers be listed on the state sex offender registry — something that doesn’t happen now.

The effort comes as Unterman has formed an alliance with a bipartisan group of House members to pass the legislation. They are working together to merge Unterman’s version of the proposal with a similar House version — House Bill 244 — with hopes to assure final passage. They have also nicknamed the effort as the “Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Act” in honor of a young woman named Rachel who testified earlier this week during a committee hearing.

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SB 8, which passed on a 52-3vote, sets out the parameters of the proposal. The companion SR 7 would ask voters statewide for permission to create the new state fund and use it solely to help trafficking victims. Because SR 7 proposes amending the Georgia Constitution, it requires a higher bar to pass the Legislature, including a two-thirds majority in both chambers. It met that bar in the Senate, passing 53-3.

Among those who have spoken on behalf of the effort: Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan; Frank Mulcahy, the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference; and the Georgia Municipal Association.

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