OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An effort to crack down on human trafficking in Oklahoma continued its momentum Tuesday in the Legislature as two proposals cleared a Senate committee, sending them on to the floor for final passage.
In a quick meeting Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill from Rep. Sally Kern to allow sex trafficking victims to remove prostitution from their criminal records. Sen. Nathan Dahm is leading the effort in the Senate.
Also approved was a bill from Rep. Pam Peterson and Sen. Kim David allowing the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to use subpoenas in its trafficking investigations. The bureau already uses those powers for drug trade investigations, and the Legislature created a task force within the bureau last November to investigate human trafficking.
"Time can be of the essence," Peterson, R-Tulsa, told The Associated Press in February. "The more tools we can give our law enforcement, the better equipped they'll be."
Human trafficking in sex work, agriculture, manufacturing and domestic work is a global industry, claiming an estimated 27 million total victims, including unknown thousands in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of State. Oklahoma has a grim reputation as a hub of the U.S. trafficking business thanks to its relatively high poverty, drug use and the crossroads of several major highways in its capital city.
Both of these bills have been approved in the House with no opposition. Almost four out of five states are considering laws to combat the problem this year, according to national advocacy group the Polaris Project, and Kern's bill to allow removal of prostitution charges reflects a growing focus on victims' welfare.
The sponsors for these two bills often have framed the proposals in terms of protecting Oklahoma's children. Kern told the AP she thought of her grandchildren when formulating her bill.
"I believe that children need to be able to grow up in a safe environment," she said.