BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill on the docket at the State Capitol could increase protections for human trafficking victims while simultaneously expanding punishment for pimps.
"The current law says that the age of 18 is currently the threshold for human trafficking laws that we have. We want to take that to 21," said bill author Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles.
As it stands, state law orders those caught trafficking individuals under the age of 18 will face up to 25 years of jail time. Five of those years would be without parole.
The Senate bill would increase the age range up to 20 years or younger.
"There is a group of young women between 18 and 21 that are very, very vulnerable in this trade of sex trafficking," Johns said.
Louisiana lawmakers passed a litany of anti-human trafficking legislation a few years ago. Those laws are considered to be some of the best across the country.
Still, the crime continues in the state. Baton Rouge is located along a main artery for sex and drug trafficking. Interstate 10 between Houston and New Orleans is a main highway for such illegal activity.
"Human trafficking is a lot more prevalent in our state than anybody ever dreamed that it would be, it's a huge issue," Johns said.
George Mills is one of those leading the fight against human trafficking in Louisiana. He heads the organization Trafficking Hope Louisiana.
He praised the bill because he said it helps prosecutors in jailing pimps while simultaneously increasing protections for victims.
"If someone had been trafficking let's say a 19-year-old female, the trafficker can't use the defense that the 19-year-old gave her consent," Mills said.
However, he said if the bill becomes law, there is still more work to be done, particularly in fighting the crime at the local level.
"Unless there is the dollars for enforcement, the fiscal note that helps the process through, that can really help how effective things are going to be," Mills said.
There is a similar bill that would have the same effect proposed in the House. It is proposed by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
Both are waiting to appear in committee.