Georgia governor signs new anti-human trafficking laws

It’s not often that a priority of Gov. Brian Kemp’s office gets unanimous approval from Georgia lawmakers. It’s even rarer that the measures pass repeatedly without a single “no” vote.

But that’s been the case with Kemp’s efforts to crack down on human trafficking, a push driven largely by his wife, Marty Kemp, who worked with lawmakers to craft and promote the legislation.

With the first lady at his side Tuesday at the Home of Hope, which provides services for homeless children and their young mothers, the governor signed into law Georgia’s latest efforts to end the crime.

Senate Bill 33 allows victims or state officials to sue for damages against traffickers and “bad actors” who know about the crimes, while Senate Bill 34 lets victims seek a name change privately.

A third measure, House Bill 287, would have initially required students starting in kindergarten to learn about the risks of tobacco use and vaping. But at the urging of a local Girl Scout troop, lawmakers agreed to add a provision that educates students starting in sixth grade about human trafficking.

All passed unanimously, following earlier human trafficking measures that passed with virtually no opposition.

“As I’ve told folks every session, some of the only bills that ever get unanimous passage are Marty’s,” Kemp said to laughs from a crowd gathered outside the Buford facility. “I’m still very confused by that, and believe you me, she reminds me often of that.”

Marty Kemp said her push to target human trafficking crystallized shortly after her husband’s election while attending an event at Atlantic Station, where victims’ advocates sent 72 school buses on a route from Midtown Atlanta to downtown to create a mile-long moving billboard to bring attention to the crime.

“It’s a heinous crime. I don’t think anybody can argue that. I hope not,” said the first lady, who helms the Grace Commission to vet ideas. “So it’s certainly bringing both sides to the table and talking about how we can make Georgia better and help the ones that are vulnerable.”

The measures reflect an approach to criminal justice that has put punishing sex traffickers and gang members at the center of the governor’s agenda. He’s signed a hate-crimes measure after nearly two decades of legislative gridlock and is set to overhaul the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law.

Kemp said it hasn’t been hard to persuade lawmakers to join the effort, which could next year involve measures to protect traumatized victims as they move from transitional housing to more permanent homes.

“This is everywhere. It’s in Clayton County and in Clay County,” he said. “There is no prejudice when it comes to human trafficking. It’s literally happening all over the country and the state.”

Anyone with information or suspicions of human trafficking should call the state hotline at 1-866-ENDHTGA, where they can speak with trained law enforcement agents, advocates and first responders.