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Minnesota Legislature Passes Huge Labor Trafficking Reforms

April 12, 2023

HF 42, a bill that aims to amend labor trafficking definitions and enhance "penalties established for labor trafficking when the trafficking occurs over an extended period of time or when a victim dies or suffers great bodily harm, coerced labor or services included as aggravating factor to penalty for sex trafficking, and statewide human trafficking assessment conforming changes made." has been passed by the Minnesotan Congress and now makes it's way to the Governor's office.

Earlier this year, Madeline Lohman (Associate Program Director at The Advocates) gave testimony earlier this year in favor of the bill. Read her full statement below:

"Thank you Chair Moller and Representative Feist and members of the committee. My name is Madeline Lohman. I'm an associate program director with The Advocates for Human Rights, and we are very pleased to testify in support of the bill today.

We've done extensive work on labor trafficking in Minnesota. For people who aren't familiar with the entirety of what labor trafficking is, the heart of it is when an individual uses control or manipulation or coercion to get some kind of labor or services from the victim and the victim believes they're unable to leave or stop. They're essentially trapped in this situation, because of the actions of the trafficker. The goal of this bill is to really bring clarity to what those actions are to ensure that we're really protecting the most vulnerable.

This is something that happens throughout the state of Minnesota. We have interviewed people and we serve clients from all over. We've had cases of agricultural workers on temporary visas where the trafficker threatened to withhold their visa and force them to pay kickbacks. We’ve had cases where family members or people in romantic relationships are required to work and turn over all their money from their job while facing serious abuse. We've had U.S. citizen youth who joined magazine sales crews to go door to door and end up trapped in situations. We heard one story of a young lady who had to crawl out of a hotel window in Chicago, because the company had a representative in the hotel rooms with all of their workers to make sure that none of them could leave. This is something that really impacts all of us. There could be victims in in any community and it also impacts us because it imposes costs on our communities as a whole.

We have seen in the biannual human trafficking report that the Department of Public Safety put out in 2017, service providers identified 394 victims of Labor trafficking. That's a fairly high number, but we believe it's a significant undercount because there is almost no routine screening for labor trafficking by government agencies or service providers. It's quite unusual for people to look for labor trafficking victims, so the fact that we're seeing 400 without any real screening, I think, speaks to the magnitude of the problem. However, despite the fact that service providers are seeing nearly 400 victims, since we passed the current labor trafficking law in 2005, there have only been three labor trafficking cases charged under the statute, and only one that secured a conviction. We really need to make the statute something that people can use to protect the vulnerable in our communities.

Susan Crumb [is going to/has] highlighted some of the confusing language around debtor and abuse of the legal process that is being improved, but I also want to highlight that this is not just bringing clarity to our law. This is also bringing us into conformity with other states. We were one of the first states to pass human trafficking legislation and so we did not have many models to draw on. Now we can look at other states that have passed their statutes more recently and see that they may have expanded definitions that help protect a greater range of victims. One of the things that we have made explicit in the law is that trafficking victims may be threatened with or actually experience bodily, psychological, economic, or reputational harm. This is a provision that's used in 26 other states with similar examples of harm, and those states include ones such as Alabama, Montana, Oklahoma and New York.

We also have introduced the levels of seriousness for sentencing that reflects the harm experienced by the victim, and there are a number of other states, including Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee that also have enhanced penalties when victims suffer serious harm, so this is something bringing us into step with how states are approaching labor trafficking as well as bringing needed clarity to the law.

The Advocates for Human Rights also just wants to point out and urge members of the Committee to take seriously possible unintended consequences. Increased enforcement and prosecution of crimes can fall unequally on people of color and immigrants, so that's a a big concern of ours, increasing criminalization of a behavior without knowing whether it will have a racially disparate impact. What drives us to support this bill is that the populations most at risk of labor trafficking are immigrants, people of color, people living in poverty, youth, people with criminal records, really highly vulnerable populations that need our protection. We support protecting those most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by passing this bill and improving our labor trafficking statute. But I want to urge robust monitoring and oversight of these changes to make sure the law does not inadvertently increase racial disparities in criminal justice. Thank you, chair and members of the committee, and I look forward to working with you on the bill."