COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s State Grand Jury would have more power to investigate human trafficking, a high-priority issue for the state’s chief prosecutor, under legislation endorsed Thursday by a panel of legislators.
The bill with bipartisan sponsors got the green light from a House judiciary subcommittee, which now sends it to a full committee for debate.
The legislation is supported by Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose office oversees the State Grand Jury and who has made combatting human trafficking one of his major objectives. He testified in support of the measure Thursday, saying he wanted to take elements from an existing law on human trafficking and give the State Grand Jury jurisdiction over prosecuting them.
In 2012, state legislators passed a measure intended to strengthen South Carolina’s anti-human-trafficking laws. The law also created a task force and gave the attorney general more tools to fight the selling people for sex or labor.
That panel began reviewing how other states address human trafficking and evaluating which plans might work best. Its recommendations, released by Wilson last summer, included more training for medical professionals and first responders on identifying the signs of human trafficking, providing more emergency shelters for victims and developing a system to follow trafficking activity.
The plan also calls for setting up a system to teach children about trafficking as part of their school curriculum and launching a public service campaign to help people know how to identify trafficking activity.
Another part of the 2012 law requires police officers to ask women arrested for prostitution whether they are working against their will. Those being forced into the sex trade will not be prosecuted.