Colorado lawmakers send human trafficking bill to governor's desk

The bill increases protections for human trafficking survivors and raises the statute of limitations. But the final version doesn't include an amendment advocates say would strengthen the bill.
colorado capitol
Posted at 5:57 PM, Apr 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-04 19:58:00-04

DENVER — A bill to crack down on human traffickers in Colorado is a step closer to becoming law.

Senate Bill 24-035 is headed to Governor Jared Polis’ desk after it was approved in the House and Senate.

The bill, which a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsored, increases the amount of time adult survivors of human trafficking have to report a crime. It also classifies human trafficking as a crime of violence, which carries enhanced penalties.

For more than a decade, Jenelle Goodrich has dedicated her life to helping survivors of human trafficking in Colorado.

“I think people think it's a lot like the movies, and it's not,” said Goodrich. “I always say that trafficking is a crime that hides in plain sight because so many victims and survivors might look just like you and me.”

Goodrich is executive director and founder of From Silenced to Saved.

“We are a third-party organization doing case management and assisting law enforcement and on scene for recoveries of victims of human trafficking,” Goodrich explained.

Goodrich is fighting to make Colorado’s laws against human trafficking stronger. Right now, adult survivors have just three years to report a crime.

“Three years is just not enough time for someone to come forward and adequately translate to anybody what's been happening to them,” said Goodrich.

That’s why she testified in support of SB24-035, which would increase the statute of limitations from three years to 20 years. State Rep. Ty Winter, who serves as the assistant minority leader in the Colorado House, is one of the bill’s sponsors.

“We're taking steps to let people know that you will not do this in Colorado, and if you do come to Colorado and do this, you will be punished,” said Winter. “We need to put our foot down and make sure that people know that this is a heinous, disgusting crime.”

Colorado House Majority Leader Monica Duran is another sponsor.

“Personally for me, I had a family member that was touched by this and impacted by this,” said Duran.

Human trafficking bill in Colorado closer to becoming law

In addition to increasing the statute of limitations, the bill would protect survivors from being charged with human trafficking crimes if they were coerced into it.

The bill would also classify human trafficking as a crime of violence. Sponsors of the bill say that classification could carry enhanced penalties if the defendant caused serious injury or death or used or threatened to use a deadly weapon. But the final version doesn’t include a Senate amendment that State Sen. Dylan Roberts says would have strengthened the bill.

“The problem with just calling it a crime of violence is that it's never going to get charged that way,” said Roberts, an attorney. “Because DA’s can't prove it that way, because it's not how it works.”

Roberts said human trafficking is a crime of manipulation.

“It's a crime that occurs over several months or several years. [It’s] not a crime of physical violence, often never a crime where a deadly weapon is used," Roberts said.

“I would respectfully disagree,” said Duran. “As a survivor myself, I know you can't simply say it never happens because all it takes is one time for that to happen. One time is one time too many.”

Despite Roberts’s concerns, the Senate agreed to the House’s version of the bill, which is now on its way to the governor.

“I feel it's a strong piece of legislation. It's a huge step,” said Duran. “I'm excited and really, really pleased about the work that we put into this.”

Goodrich said she would have preferred if the Senate amendment stayed in the bill and agreed with Roberts.

“Human trafficking is a sophisticated and calculated crime that hinges on the psychological manipulation and intimidation of highly vulnerable people,” said Goodrich. “We rarely, if ever, see the use of a deadly weapon or bodily injury in our human trafficking cases.”

But she’s happy with other parts of the bill.

“The extension of the statute of limitation is so long overdue, and Colorado was really at the bottom when it came to that,” said Goodrich.

Goodrich said she also supports the provision protecting survivors who may break laws due to coercion.

“I absolutely support the protections in there for survivors who may be getting caught up in some of these charges that they were doing under the control of their trafficker,” said Goodrich.

The General Assembly has passed several pieces of legislation in recent years to protect survivors of human trafficking, which can include sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

In 2022, lawmakers passed a bill to protect sex workers when reporting a crime. In 2021, they passed a bill aimed at protecting protect agriculture workers from labor trafficking. In 2020, the legislature approved a bill increasing penalties against employers who refuse to pay workers for their labor.

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