I watched Stacey Abrams walk out on an important House vote to fight human trafficking, and I think Georgia voters should know about it.  

Human trafficking is perhaps the darkest corner of humanity.  It is unthinkable — and something that none of us could imagine the horror of — unless we experienced it ourselves. It involves forcing children, women and men into performing sexual services for others against their will. In more blunt terms, it is sex slavery. Georgia is an epicenter for Human Trafficking. Over the last 15 years, the Georgia General Assembly has worked hard to implement strong policies to fight this atrocity, giving law enforcement and communities the tools and resources to do so.

In January of 2017, I began work with Attorney General Chris Carr on a bill to close a gap in Georgia’s human trafficking statutes.  While Georgia law was tough on the “pimps” who organize these transactions for a purchaser (aka the “john”) to buy sexual services, Georgia law was nearly non-existent as to serious charges being placed against the purchaser, or in terms of economics — the demand side of the equation. To fight the supply, we needed to also attack the demand — and this bill did just that.

In the four years I have served in the General Assembly, I have often looked for opportunities to build consensus on legislation. Some issues, frankly, are so important they need to be approached with unity from both sides of the aisle and from every corner of our state. The trafficking of children, women and men being forced into sex slavery, to me, was an issue that transcended partisan politics.  

In the early stages of this legislation, I scheduled a meeting with House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. As the leader of the minority caucus, she was best positioned to engage in discussions to create bipartisan legislation. On this bill, she gave me guidance and offered suggestions and recommended changes to the parts of the bill where she had concerns. I accommodated her requests, and the bill was introduced and received bipartisan support and approval throughout the committee process.

On February 28, 2017, I presented the bill (HB 341) to the House of Representatives for a formal vote. I made my presentation of the bill and stood for questions, receiving none. Just before I finished, Abrams rose from her desk and began to walk out. I noticed this because her House seat was directly in front of the well, front and center in the House. As I made my way back to my desk to cast my own vote, I noticed that Abrams was over on the opposite side of the House floor, hovering near the side door. Once the vote was closed, she returned to her seat. I saw this with my own eyes.

Missing a vote is not completely uncommon. On busy days, legislators are often off the floor, sometimes in the Senate, sometimes meeting with persons and constituents outside the House floor. It happens. But the House rules are clear: if you are on the floor, you are required to vote. From what I saw with my own eyes, Abrams simply got up and walked away from her desk to avoid casting a vote on this bill. The official House record indicates Abrams was not excused.

HB341 passed 168-1. It was a bill free of partisan disagreements. I do not understand why she “walked.” It didn’t make sense. I specifically sought her input, received it, altered my bill, but in the end she refused to take a position on the important, bipartisan issue of trying to end sex slavery. Later in the legislative session, the House voted on HB341 yet again (passing 169-0), and although I did not watch her, the voting record indicates that once again, she chose not to vote on this issue. Again she was not excused.

I do not know Abrams’ rationale or agenda on this issue, but I do know she deliberately avoided taking a public position on human trafficking, and chose not to join the rest of her colleagues in punishing these evildoers — twice.  Her deliberate refusal to take a stand on human trafficking should cause us all to wonder what else she has tucked away in her agenda. As we approach the Nov. 6 general election, every Georgia voter should be concerned about her agenda, because clearly there is more to her radical agenda than meets the eye.

Bert Reeves represents District 34 in the Georgia House of Representatives.


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