Legislation that would give prosecutors more power against human traffickers in South Carolina is now headed to the governor’s desk.
The Senate voted 37-0 Tuesday to approve the conference report for a bill that would give the State Grand Jury power to investigate human trafficking. The House also passed the report unanimously last week.
Previously, only local jurisdictions could handle trafficking cases, which the State Attorney General’s Office said often prevented prosecutors from building a case against those who illegally sell sex and labor across county lines. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he considered the bill a top priority.
“This is a major step forward to combat human trafficking in our own backyard,” Wilson said in a statement Tuesday. “Thanks to the authorization provided by this bill, human trafficking cases… are no longer restricted by local jurisdictional boundaries. The hunt for offenders can go anywhere in South Carolina where the investigation leads. Local law enforcement has told us, ‘they can’t stop finding human traffickers.’ Now, we have a much better chance of bringing them to justice.”
Wilson’s office oversees the State Grand Jury.
The bill is meant as a follow-up to a 2012 human trafficking law that also had overwhelming support from legislators. However, Wilson said the lack of statewide court, which he considers a loophole, made it difficult to go after large networks that operate in more than one county.
“These are boys and girls from South Carolina,” the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg said before Tuesday’s vote. “A lot of them are runaways. This is very much needed,”
The state’s chief prosecutor says the bill would fix an oversight in the state’s 2012 anti-human-trafficking law. Wilson says the fix would mean human traffickers could no longer hide by scurrying from county to county.