Senators are ramping up efforts to fight human trafficking by turning their focus to the transportation and trucking industry.
The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a pair of bipartisan bills that target transportation providers — such as truckers and commercial vehicle drivers — and the role they can play in combating human trafficking.
“As our eyes and ears on the road, truckers and commercial drivers are often the first line of defense against human trafficking,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who co-sponsored one of the measures. “By providing training to recognize and report trafficking, we can empower them to prevent this heinous crime across the country.”
One bill, the No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act, would bar individuals from ever being allowed to operate a commercial motor vehicle if they have used such a vehicle to commit a felony involving human trafficking.
The other measure, the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act, would create an advisory committee on the issue and designate a “human trafficking prevention coordinator” at the Department of Transportation. It also would increase outreach, education and reporting efforts at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Both pieces of legislation now head to the Senate floor for consideration.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the transportation committee who co-sponsored the bills, hailed their passage through the panel on Wednesday as "an important step" toward combating human trafficking in the U.S.
Thune said that "the sooner they get to the president’s desk, the sooner we can send a strong message to anyone who might consider engaging in this horrendous criminal activity."
Lawmakers have been working to address what they call a growing human rights crisis, as an increasing number of Americans are being forced into acts like prostitution, child labor and pornography.
The House passed a sweeping overhaul of laws to prevent human trafficking last month, while a committee in the Senate approved legislation to ensure law enforcement has the necessary resources to fight against the commercial exploitation of Americans and to strengthen support programs for victims.
In addition to broad legislation, lawmakers are also narrowly focused on the issue.
One area getting more attention is the transportation sector. Lawmakers say the industry is well-positioned to help identify and prevent the epidemic, since traffickers use the country’s transportation networks to move their victims around.
The departments of Homeland Security and Transportation have launched an initiative to train airline personnel to better identify potential traffickers and victims and report any suspicions to federal law enforcement. The requirement was included in a short-term aviation bill last year.
“Human trafficking must be fought on many fronts,” Thune said.