November 20, 2022
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration has declined to issue fines after over 14,000 violations of a sex trafficking law by Florida hotels and lodging establishments.
An investigation published on Sunday by the Sun Sentinelfound that 6,669 hotels and other lodging establishments had received 14,279 citations since a 2019 sex trafficking law required them to make modest changes to protect victims.
In one case, The Plaza Hotel was cited five times after a 17-year-old girl was choked because she would not turn over all her earnings to her sex trafficker.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation told the paper that no fines had been issued because the establishment had corrected the problems within a 90-day grace period provided by the law.
State Sen. Lauren Book passed the law and was shocked to find out that state enforcers had required no fines.
"The reason that we had the cure period was that you fix the problem, not that you fall back on your laurels because the department then gives you another 90 days after some time," she explained. "That's not the intention, that's not the spirit of the law or the intention. So it's my intention to go back and change that and not allow for that."
It's not clear why DeSantis has not ordered his government to use the law to crack down on sex trafficking.
"The division's main goal is to focus on educating licensees and assisting them as they strive to come into compliance with the law," the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation said in a statement. "By performing follow-up inspections at 60 days and then again at the 90-day deadline, division inspectors have been successful in compelling establishments to comply prior to the issuance of an administrative complaint. To date, all public lodging establishments have complied by the conclusion of 90 days and no enforcement cases have yet been generated due to non-compliance with the law."
The department declined to make a spokesperson available for an interview.
"My administration is committed to ensuring criminals involved in this heinous crime are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and victims are returned to safety," DeSantis told the 2019 Human Trafficking Summit. "While this issue remains a serious threat here in Florida, I'm proud of the great work people across our state are doing to push back."
Fines from the 2019 law were expected to help fund the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking.
The report was the first of a five-part series from the Sun Sentinel.