Help for Human Trafficking Victims Advances, but No Funding

Jan. 27, 2020, 5:37 p.m. ·

Sen. Tom Brandt gestures during a hearing on his lottery proposal (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Listen To This Story

Victims of human trafficking could be offered safe houses and counseling to get away from the people who are exploiting them, under a bill advancing in the Legislature. But senators are not providing any money to implement the program. More on that, and proposals affecting everyone from teachers and students to lottery winners, in this legislative update.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, chief sponsor of the human trafficking bill, began debate by describing how the system sometimes fails victims. Linehan described how law enforcement tried to help a woman she called “Jenna.”

“’Jenna’ was arrested on prostitution charges, believing criminal detention could at least provide her some safety in the absence of adequate resources and safe housing. Law enforcement officers were hopeful that perhaps after a night in jail, she would tell them she was the victim – only she didn’t. The next day Jenna’s trafficker bailed her out. Jenna was more distrustful of law enforcement, and her cycle of trafficking continued. This is not the right response,” Linehan said.

Nebraska law already gives people immunity from arrest if police conclude they are being trafficked. But that doesn’t address situations where people are too scared to admit it. The right response, Linehan said, is providing victims with services like housing and mental health counseling as an alternative to arrest.

Her bill sets up an advisory board and an office with the power to administer grants to set up programs like that. But while it originally appropriated $500,000 a year to get started, an amendment got rid of that money, which led Linehan to warn that “without funding, the provisions of this bill will be hollow, creating a new state structure that would be incapable of following through on its plan.”

Linehan said later she expects there will be private donations to help get the program running, and advocates will continue to seek state funding.

No one spoke against the proposal. But two senators did use the debate as a way to focus attention on what they said were related problems.

Sen. Megan Hunt pointed to the situation of children being separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the U.S.- Mexican border, a number she said had reached 6,000 by last October.

“About 100 of these migrant children, at least, have been separated from their parents have been sent into the care of an adoption agency. And so we have reason to think now that a lot of these kids are potentially going to be adopted out,” Hunt said.

And Sen. Ernie Chambers said while he supported the bill, it was hypocritical to overlook the role in U.S. history of slavery, which he called a more generalized form of human trafficking.

Chambers offered an amendment recognizing what he sarcastically called “The All American Pantheon of Human Traffickers.” He was referring to slaveholders among the Founding Fathers and other notable early Americans, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Patrick Henry, and Francis Scott Key.

“When I saw this bill on the agenda several days ago, the first thing that jumped into my mind is a question: ‘How they make it criminal for people to do what the Founding Fathers of their country did?’” Chambers said.

Chambers later withdrew his amendment, and senators voted 46-0 first round approval of the bill.

Tuesday afternoon, the Education Committee held a public hearing on a proposal by Sen. Dave Murman to require teachers and other school personnel be trained in behavioral awareness and intervention, including de-escalation techniques and physical intervention.

Omaha teacher Robert Miller, supporting the bill for the Nebraska State Education Association, talked about what one of his students did as an example of the need for such training. “The student would wander the room, dumping book bins, shoving materials off student desks, taking pencils out of student hands, and throwing them across the room. The learning in my classroom often stopped, and came to a complete halt,” Miller said.

No one attending the hearing spoke against the bill. But Edison McDonald, speaking for the ARC of Nebraska, which represents people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, expressed reservations.

McDonald specifically objected to language that would give teachers legal immunity if they physically intervene with a student, even if they haven’t gone through training. The committee has not yet acted on the proposal.

And in another public hearing held by the General Affairs Committee, Sen. Tom Brandt discussed his proposal to let people who win more than $300,000 in the lottery remain anonymous.

“The reason I was compelled to bring this bill is all the stories and articles about lottery winners struggling financially and mentally a few years after winning it. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70% of lottery winners end up bankrupt within a few years,” Brandt said.

Actually, that endowment disavows that statistic on its website, which says “This statistic is not backed by research from the NEFE, nor can it be confirmed by the organization. Frequent reporting—without validation from NEFE – has allowed this ‘stat’ to survive online in perpetuity.”

But Brandt said financial consequences weren’t the only reason for his proposal.

“Beyond the financial hardships, there are countless stories of winners attempting or committing suicide. A major factor in these stories is the amount of harassment winners received from immediate family and friends to newfound fourth cousins and local charities or organizations,” he said.

The bill was opposed by lobbyist Walt Radcliffe, representing Media of Nebraska.

“There is something to be said for the public knowing who wins, other than just voyeurism. Specifically, individuals who work for a lottery vendor, or who have an association with them, are prohibited from winning. Very honestly, sometimes unless the name of that winner becomes public, nobody's going to ever step up and point out issues like that, that may arise,” Radcliffe said.

Brandt downplayed that criticism, saying lottery officials would still know who won, and if those people were employees. The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

Editor’s note: By way of full disclosure, NET is represented in the Media of Nebraska organization.