- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A proposal to let courts create specialized divisions to handle human trafficking cases received the unanimous backing Thursday of the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said her bill (House Bill 569) would allow judges to better steer victims to support services, rather than jail for drug crimes or prostitution that are tied to trafficking.

“What you find in human trafficking victims is that often the only point that we have the chance to reach out to them is in a court setting,” she said.

The creation of a special division or section of a court to handle human trafficking cases would allow for a judge to get specialized training about available support services.

If a special human trafficking division exists in a judicial district, all prostitution-related cases would be steered to that division.

The measure, which moves next to the full House for consideration, is backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, along with a second proposal (House Bill 1025) by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, that would create harsher punishments for human trafficking and related crimes.

Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said human trafficking is a significant problem in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He supported Stokes‘ bill.

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All of Louisiana’s parishes and municipalities would be able to create gun buyback programs that allow people to exchange weapons for gift certificates or other compensation, under a proposal that won approval from the House municipal committee Thursday.

New Orleans is the only city in Louisiana authorized to hold buyback programs, though Baton Rouge has done one for several years.

The bill (House Bill 272) by Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, would authorize the program in Baton Rouge - and in any parish or municipality that wants to hold something similar in a no-questions-asked effort to get guns off the street.

Baton Rouge has participated in a gun buyback program since 2010 called “Gas for Guns,” in which people turn over weapons in exchange for gas cards ranging from $50 to $300 from Circle K.

Mark Dumaine, chief of administration for the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office, said the Baton Rouge program has recovered 557 guns, nine of which were stolen. He supported the bill, which moves next to the full House for debate.

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QUOTE:

“We would like to exist for a few more years.”

—First Assistant Attorney General Trey Phillips, speaking in the House Judiciary Committee about a bill (House Bill 314) that reauthorizes the existence of the state Department of Justice until 2019.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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