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South Dakota Legislature looks to tackle human trafficking through advancement of four bills

One bill is already heading to Gov. Kristi Noem's desk for her signature, while the others are awaiting hearing in committee.

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The South Dakota State Capitol.
Mitchell Republic file photo

PIERRE — The South Dakota Legislature is looking to take on human trafficking by advancing four separate bills, one of which will soon seek the signature of Gov. Kristi Noem.

Of the four bills, one would disqualify those convicted of a felony human trafficking charge from operating a commercial vehicle within the state, while others would expand protections of trafficking victims, establish protections for child survivors and require police officers be trained to prevent trafficking.

Senate Bill 28 has made the most progress. That bill — which would bar individuals convicted of a felony under South Dakota’s codified laws surrounding trafficking or under United States Code from driving commercial vehicles — has passed two committees and both chambers of the state’s bicameral legislature without a single vote in opposition.

Under federal regulations, all states must have the ability to bar individuals convicted of a trafficking felony by Sep. 23, 2022, according to Jane Schrank, director of the driver licensing program for the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

“There’s nothing that needs to be said about this,” said Myron Lee Rau, a representative for the South Dakota Trucking Association. “This is a horrible crime … There needs to be something that we can do about this.”

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No opponents testified against the bill in the Senate Transportation Committee, where the bill originated. It was passed unanimously in that committee and the Senate floor, as well as in the House Transportation Committee. On Monday, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill.

SB 28 will head to Noem’s desk for her signature. If signed, the bill will become law in July 2022.

In addition to SB 28, three other bills are currently floating around the Statehouse, seeking to provide further protections for the victims of human trafficking.

House Bill 1218, introduced to the House and referred to a committee on Thursday, aims to include victims of human trafficking in the legal definition of an abused or neglected child.

SD Senate Applause
Members of the South Dakota Senate applaud those visiting the Capitol in Pierre before they enter session on Wendesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

By updating the definition to include human trafficking victims, it requires mandatory reporters to forward suspected trafficking incidents to supervisors or authorities, includes victims in social services provided to abused and neglected children and expands who could be eligible to receive county-funded services.

HB 1218 has not seen committee hearings, discussion or votes yet, but is likely to undergo initial discussion in the coming days or weeks.

Beyond the inclusion of trafficking victims as abused and neglected children, House Bills 1220 and 1221, which complement one another, are tailored to increase the responsibilities of law enforcement officers and agencies in sniffing out human trafficking and providing protections for victims.

One bill would require police officers to attend biannual trainings to increase their skill of identifying, investigating and overall handling of human trafficking violations, while the other would require them to immediately contact social services and the statewide coordinator for human trafficking whenever an officer believes a child has been engaged in trafficking in any way.

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Both bills, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, have yet to be assigned to a committee.

According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 states reported at least one human-trafficking offense to the National Corrections Reporting Program in 2019. Among those states, 614 state prison admissions in 2019 were for a human trafficking offense.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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