Aliso Viejo is expected to take a final vote Wednesday on an ordinance enacting specific penalties on businesses associated with human trafficking.

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“The council had raised concern at a prior meeting about the obvious devastation that human trafficking can make to lives, and wanted us to explore ways that the city of Aliso Viejo could penalize any perpetrator of that heinous crime,” City Attorney Scott Smith said during the council’s April 7 meeting.

The idea for a human trafficking ordinance originated at the March 3 meeting, when a resolution was proposed to end child marriage with no exceptions and called on the state to enact legislation, but faced criticism. 

Some council members argued that ending all child marriages is not fair to those that are safe and consensual. Council member Dave Harrington proposed the human trafficking ordinance instead

The council unanimously gave initial approval to the ordinance at its April 7 meeting.

Though Aliso Viejo already had nuisance abatement laws in place to punish human traffickers, the city wanted to tighten regulations on businesses and landlords too. The revised ordinance draws from the California Red Light Abatement Law, signed in 1914, which allows local government to penalize establishments engaged in illegal gambling and lewd acts, including human trafficking.

“The penalties for operating or acquiescing a business or property ownership that engages in trafficking are very harsh,” said Smith.

Such penalties include a one-year closure of any buildings or premises in connection with the crime, payment of one year’s fair market rent to the city, reimbursement of city attorney’s fees, and a civil fine of up to $25,000, according to the ordinance.

“I think we are at a good spot with (the ordinance),” Council member Richard Hurt said at the meeting. “Go after the property if there are illegal acts going on. It holds them accountable too.”

Human trafficking has been a discussion for cities in Orange County for years.

An estimated 83% of victims come from sex trafficking rings, which operate in places like hotels and illegal massage parlors, according to the OC Human Trafficking Task Force.

In 2014, then Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Massage Therapy Reform Act, which denied massage licenses to registered sex offenders, prohibited adult entertainment in massage therapy, and gave more power to local governments to regulate massage parlors.

Aliso Viejo City Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday for a second and final reading on the ordinance. If approved, the law will go into effect in 30 days. The public can access the meeting live via instructions on the city’s website.

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