Metro council passes measure to help prevent human trafficking, prostitution at hotels

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge Metro Council passed a new measure Wednesday night aimed at preventing human trafficking and prostitution at hotels.

"The call volume to a lot of these hotels and motels is high," said East Baton Rouge Assistant District Attorney Will Morris. "Higher than what we'd consider acceptable within the industry." Morris says not all the calls for service to a hotel are violent, but decreasing calls overall will hopefully prevent an incident from escalating.

Hotels will now have to apply for permits and will have to undergo inspections performed by the city. If officials find any suspicious activity, the hotel could face fines or lose their permit altogether, forcing the hotel to close. Hotel guests will also be required to provide their name and address, as well as a photo ID when they check in. "It's not that we're requiring additional work on them," explained Councilwoman Erika Green. "They already ask for IDs, but now we're asking them to do it a little bit better."

"What they're trying to do is prevent people from using an alias or being anonymous when they enter a place," said Councilman Matt Watson. "To do something illegal, something horrific like human trafficking, especially of juveniles and be able to get away with it."

City leaders say the ordinance will take effect in 180 days. Under this new ordinance, hotel staffers will now have an incentive to speak up if they see suspicious activity. Council members say if an employee reports a problem and it leads to an arrest, they won't face a violation, but if an occupant has to report a problem after the hotel didn't intervene, the hotel could face a fine.

We're told three or more service calls within a 90-day period that result in an arrest could cause the hotel to lose their permit. "If you see something, say something," said Green. "We don't want you to profile. We just want you to make sure you're on alert."

The fines will range from $500 to $2,000 and will be based on the size of the hotel and number of rooms. We're told if a hotel or motel's permit is revoked, guests must leave the premises within 72 hours. Hotel administration will have a chance to plead their case before a committee, which will determine if the hotel can reopen.

City leaders say the metro council is working closely with the Hotel Association to make this new ordinance work. "This is a problem that we can't arrest and prosecute our way out of," said Morris. "It's a community problem and the hotel/motel industry needs to naturally be a partner."

Hotels will no longer be allowed to rent rooms at an hourly rate either.

The council was also set to discuss a policy that would allow job applicants not hired because of a failed drug test for marijuana and/or former employees of the city-parish who have been let go for a failed drug test to be eligible to apply for "subsequent employment" after one year. The policy was up for public comment.

The discussion of the policy has been deferred to a date due to Councilman Chandler Loupe, one of the council members behind the measure, being sick and unable to attend the meeting.

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