Our Opinion: Lawmakers put up roadblocks to human trafficking

If the question was asked, it has been answered.

A news story Tuesday reported Missouri lawmakers have approved and sent to Gov. Jay Nixon a law to increase punishments for human trafficking. The report may have prompted readers to ask: Is human trafficking a problem in Missouri?

A subsequent news story reported a man from Uzbekistan was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to managing a 14-state human trafficking ring based in Kansas City.

The man was among 12 people charged in the case, which prosecutors characterized as one of the largest labor racketing schemes ever uncovered in the United States, generating more than $6 million in illegal gains.

Prosecutors say more than 1,000 people —mainly from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica — paid thousands of dollars for visas to come to the United States, where they were treated like slaves and threatened with loss of their visas and harm to their families.

Human trafficking for forced labor or sexual servitude is a despicable, and very real, problem in Missouri.

Legislators deserve credit not simply for passing the bill, but passing it unanimously in both the House and Senate.

The legislation would impose longer maximum sentences — up to 20 years imprisonment — for human trafficking and allow a fine of up to $250,000.

It also would require people convicted of the crime to pay restitution to compensate victims for their labor, and pay for any mental or physical rehabilitation victims require.

The bill also authorizes the Missouri Department of Public Safety to develop and implement training procedures to identify and assist trafficking victims.

Human trafficking and involuntary servitude are abhorrent crimes that must not be tolerated.

We encourage the governor to join unanimous legislators and approve this law.

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