JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - One local advocacy group pleaded this week for Gov. Jay Nixon to maintain first-of-its-kind funding for human trafficking training for state investigators.
The funds were approved as part of House Bill 2008, the Department of Public Safety's appropriations bill. Section 8.045 funded $100,000 for training law enforcement officials to identify human trafficking victims and situations.
"It's really critical because there's never been any monies allocated for training for law enforcement in the state of Missouri before and so we have to start somewhere," said Nanette Ward, of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition.
Ward and others within that organization had pushed for the funding since a 2011 anti-trafficking law passed in Jefferson City.
The sponsor of the new funding was Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia).
"I think it's an almost invisible item, there's no political support, but I think it's an important area we need to learn about in our society," he told ABC 17 News.
The coalition issued a call to action this week because of fears the money could get zeroed out of the budget in potential cuts later.
ABC 17 News reached out to Gov. Nixon's office on Wednesday to ask about the line item. A spokesman emailed back, saying, "the budget bills are currently under review by the Governor's office ... it's too early to be talking about specific line items."
The governor has until the end of June to finalize the budget.
"Gov. Nixon has always been interested in law enforcement and this is a tool that makes law enforcement able to do their jobs well," Kelly said. "So I'm betting he's going to support it."
The training program itself was not developed when the funding was set and advocates said part of that reason was because the money needed to be approved first.
Several agencies across the state have held informal training with groups like the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, but there has never been a statewide anti-trafficking initiative like the one proposed.
"Human trafficking isn't happening in pockets, so our training can't just happen in pockets, we have to be dedicated across the state," Ward added.
In the past several years police across Mid-Missouri have told ABC 17 News that dozens of human trafficking crimes occurred each year, which often meant dozens more went unreported.
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