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City Bill Aims At Human Trafficking

P. Kenneth Burns

City tourism representatives and advocates for victims of human trafficking have dropped their objections to a bill aimed at stemming the practice in Baltimore now that the sponsor has dropped one provision--a ban on rent-by-the-hour rooms.

The move came after several meetings among the sponsor, Councilman Jim Kraft, tourism representatives and victims’ advocates.

David Reel, president and CEO of the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, argued there are legitimate reasons for renting rooms by the hour.

“You have people who have the very early morning arrival or midnight flight coming into Baltimore and they want to check into a hotel for a couple of hours and freshen up,” said “You [also] have folks that fly in from out of town and they want to conduct interviews confidentially with job prospects.”

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, wrote in a report to the council that his group has “not seen police statistics that human trafficking is a problem in the city’s hotel community, much (less) one that necessitates legislative action.”

Jeanne Allert, founder and executive director of The Samaritan Women, a long term care program for trafficking survivors in Southwest Baltimore, said survivors believe nothing good can happen in rent-by-the-hour rooms, but they also see them as safe places with access to security and hotel personnel.

“If you close that door, from the survivor’s perspective, essentially you drive that activity to alleyways, into abandonminiums, into cars and into venues which may be more dangerous for the victim,” she said.

Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But Allert said few statistics are available because the government has only recognized domestic human trafficking in the last four years.

The federal government began strengthening laws against human trafficking in 2000 with the Trafficking Persons Protection Act. 

Kraft said he proposed the bill, based on one adopted in Prince George’s County last year, after following the issue.

“It is modern day slavery and it is greater than people know,” he said.

Meeting at the Table

The City Council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations committee held two work sessions in as many months with advocates and representatives from the hotel and tourism industry to work out differences in the bill.

In addition to removing the ban on rent-by-the-hour rooms, other changes are on the way.

The original version of the bill required the city police commissioner to oversee the training of hotel employees to spot human trafficking.  That responsibility will go to the health commissioner in the new version of the bill.

Kraft, who also chairs the committee, said all references to the police commissioner were removed because of an opinion from the Law Department last year during the debate on police body cameras. 

Chief Solicitor Elena DiPietro wrote at the time that the city charter says neither the council nor the mayor can “conflict, impede, obstruct, hinder or interfere with the powers of the Police Commissioner.”

In addition to excluding the police commissioner and including the health commissioner, Baltimore Housing, which licenses hotels in the city, will be required to verify if employees have been trained.

Kraft said he also plans to introduce a second bill to protect those who blow the whistle on human trafficking at hotels that will be tied to his trafficking bill.

If the council approves the bills, they would go into effect next year.