Congressman Bryan Steil announces first bill

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, standing at the podium, discusses his first piece of legislation, surrounded by area law enforcement and government representatives in Yorkville. (Photo by Jeffrey Zampanti/Lee Newspapers)

YORKVILLE — A new federal bill that aims to cut off funding for human trafficking is working its way to the floor of the House of Representatives after being introduced by the Lake Geneva region’s new congressman.

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, announced the bill he authored — the Exposing the Financing of Human Trafficking Act, or HR 2149 — at a press conference on May 28 at the Racine County Sheriff’s Patrol Station in Yorkville, with elected officials and law enforcement officers from both Racine and Kenosha counties in attendance.

The bill is currently in the Financial Services Committee, of which Steil is a member, and it is waiting to be brought forth by the committee chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

“Human trafficking on a global scale is a $150 billion operation. We need to put a dent in that; we need to end that,” Steil said. “When we give foreign aid from the federal government to countries globally, we need to know that they’re our partner in stopping the financing of human trafficking. And that’s what this bill does.”

If passed, Steil said, the bill would hold nations accountable for their actions or lack of action to curb the issue of human trafficking, using U.S. foreign aid as a carrot and stick and by going “after the money.”

The bill would mandate a report that would evaluate individual countries based on their responses to human trafficking, similar to the way reports on how countries handle illegal drugs are handled.

Steil said the purpose of the bill is to make sure U.S. money does not get laundered to organizations or individuals engaged in human trafficking.

“We need to have this (report) at the table of conversation for countries that are eligible for U.S. foreign aid. We need to know that they’re partners with the United States as it relates to the war that we need to have to fight human trafficking,” Steil said.

With 14 co-sponsors in the House, including U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, Steil is confident the bill will pass in committee and make it to the House floor for a vote of the full membership.

“There are areas that are not partisan in nature where we can work together,” Steil said. “We need to take advantage of those opportunities so we can get something done on behalf of the American people.”

This is the first piece of legislation authored by the freshman congressman since his election last fall, and Steil said he got the idea after a meeting with the sheriffs of each county in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District to talk about how he could help them in Washington.

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling thanked Steil for his support in the fight against trafficking.

“Human trafficking victims often times need counselling, drug treatment, job training, housing assistance to truly escape their traffickers,” Schmaling said.

Schmaling added that his office plans to add another full-time investigator to the Greater Racine Human Trafficking Task Force.

The issue of human trafficking was one that Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth thought for a time human trafficking just happened in other communities.

“For a long time, I never thought this was a major issue in southeastern Wisconsin or Kenosha, but over the last few years I’ve learned how it’s riddled throughout Kenosha County,” Beth said. “We know that it runs rampant along the interstate.”

Racine Police Officer Neal Lofy, with the regional human trafficking unit, said trafficking is a major problem in the Racine and Kenosha communities.

“We see both international and domestic victims in Racine and Kenosha County,” Lofy said. “Over the last four years, we’ve probably worked with about 300 victims in those two counties.”

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said if passed, the bill will help make the region safer.