- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2014

Prince George’s County lawmakers are seeking to crack down on human trafficking in the county by banning hourly rentals of hotel rooms.

County Council member Karen R. Toles plans to introduce legislation to that effect Tuesday as well as a separate bill that would require hotel operators to provide training to employees on how to identify human trafficking activities and victims.

A county working group charged with studying and combating the problem has been able to identify about 130 cases of human trafficking in the county since 2013, said Michael Lyles, chairman of the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force.

“The facilities where trafficking takes place have been in hotels and in and around hotel establishments,” Mr. Lyles said. “The Route 1 corridor and Clinton have been a prime source for attracting the trafficking.”

While there are few county hotels that still allow customers to rent by the hour — the task force is aware of two — Mr. Lyles said those hotels have been a magnet for prostitution and accounted for the “lion’s share of the problems.”

The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force has called the state a “hot spot” for trafficking on account of proximity to Interstate 95 and the bus stops and truck stops that populate the corridor. Traffickers ferry victims between the major metropolitan cities connected by the interstate.

“With major highways come numerous rest stops, truck stops and bus stations, all of which have proven to be a primary location for traffickers to exploit their victims,” the state task force notes in its latest report.

Last year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 707 calls about human trafficking in Maryland. The state ranks eighth in the country for the highest number of human trafficking-related reports.

Police in Prince George’s County have conducted a number of high-profile prostitution stings in recent years hoping to break up human trafficking rings. But creating legislation to go after the problem hotels would allow the county to hold the nuisance hotels responsible for the first time, Mr. Lyles said.

Mr. Lyles said the idea for the legislation came from discussions with county police and hotel owners about what tactics might work best to discourage sex trafficking.

Across the country, other jurisdictions have taken up the practice of banning hourly hotel room rentals. Jefferson Parish, outside of New Orleans, banned the rental of hotel rooms for less than 12 hours in 2009. San Antonio, Texas, banned hourly rentals in 2008.

Still other cities have authority to fine hotels or suspend their operating permits if they are found to be continuously allowing prostitution to occur on their properties, Mr. Lyles said. That’s the direction he’d like Prince George’s County to ultimately take.

“We’re looking to ensure that we have the legislative authority to stop these practices,” he said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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