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Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham. (Photo: ad35.asmrc.org)

Bill To Impose Civil Penalties on Hotel Owners Over Human Trafficking Passed in Senate

Crime Victims United, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, and California District Attorneys support AB 1788

By Evan Symon, April 1, 2022 12:22 pm

A bill to allow civil penalties to be issued against hotels if owners know of human trafficking occurrences and don’t report them was passed in the Assembly on Thursday, and will move to the Senate.

Assembly Bill 1788, authored by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), would authorize civil penalties to be issued to hotel owners if they or their hotel supervisors knew of or “acted with reckless disregard” of sex trafficking activities happening at hotels and failed to tell law enforcement, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, or other victim service organization. Similar penalties would also be given  if an employee of the hotel knowingly benefited from a sex trafficking venture there that they knew of.

The bill would allow cities, counties, or the attorneys of cities and counties to impose penalties of up to $1,000 for the first violation, $3,000 for the second in the same year, and $5,000 for a third and beyond. Particularly bad offenders may also have fines of up to $10,000 for fourth violations and beyond

Assemblyman Cunningham wrote the bill as human trafficking is regarded as the fastest growing crime in the world, with some hotel and motel supervisors and owners playing a part in it.

“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the United States, and it is happening in hotels and motels throughout all parts of California,” Cunningham said in early February when the bill was introduced. “AB 1788 will give local prosecutors another tool to save trafficking victims and punish those who try to provide traffickers with a safe haven. I am thankful for my colleagues’ overwhelming support for this important bill.”

Since its introduction, AB 1788 has moved relatively fast through the Assembly, including being passed unanimously with bipartisan support in the lone Committee vote on March 22nd. The bipartisan support continued on Thursday, passing 65-0 with 11 not voting.

“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the US, and it is happening in hotels and motels throughout CA,” Cunningham tweeted. “Our bill AB 1788, which would allow DAs to hold hotel and motel owners liable if they don’t report trafficking, has passed the Assembly. Thx to my colleagues.”

In addition to bipartisan support, support from the bill came from multiple organizations and advocacy groups, including Crime Victims United, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, and the California District Attorneys’ Association. No known opposition has come out directly against the bill as of Thursday.

“Human trafficking is such an important issue to a lot of lawmakers, and fighting against it is something that all sides of the aisle can agree on,” said Lucy Cullen, a Bay Area human traffic survivor advocate who helps assists victims following law enforcement action in breaking up trafficking rings and services, to the Globe on Friday. “A lot of the women I assist, you just wouldn’t believe their stories or what they went through to come here. This is so much beyond a California issue, but it also happens here. With this bill, I hope it significantly stops this. We fight these human trafficking rings often in California, and making hotels that much more difficult to be a part of it might make them undesirable for these people and make it much more difficult to do it period. It’s a worthwhile goal.”

AB 1788 is expected to be heard in Senate committees in the coming weeks, with passage in the Senate and ultimate signing into law being projected by most insiders.

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Evan Symon
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