Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr talks at the State Capitol on Jan. 27, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – A new investigative unit tasked with cracking down on human trafficking in Georgia has started paying dividends after its creation last year, according to state law enforcement officials and Gov. Brian Kemp.

Attorney General Chris Carr announced Thursday indictments were handed down recently for four people charged with human trafficking in Gwinnett, Chatham, Greene and Cobb counties.

Carr said more arrests and indictments are expected to come from his office’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, which was launched last spring after.

“This is just the beginning,” Carr said at a news conference Thursday. “We will stop at nothing to seek justice on behalf of these victims.”

Kemp made going after human traffickers a high priority when he took office last year, citing Georgia’s unenviable status as a state with one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation. He formed a state commission to tackle the issue and installed his wife, first lady Marty Kemp, as one of three co-chairs.

On Thursday, the governor also highlighted a new training program required for all state employees focused on identifying signs of human trafficking and victimization.

“We won’t stop until we put an end to this modern-day slavery in our state,” Kemp said.

Last year, state lawmakers budgeted about $171,000 for four staff members in the new human trafficking unit. House lawmakers have recommended reducing that budget this fiscal year by about $87,000 due to hiring delays. Kemp’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposes an additional roughly $194,000 for the unit.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have targeted human trafficking with bills in the 2020 legislative session.

Legislation aimed at helping victims of human trafficking clean up any criminal records they may have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 158, sponsored by Sen. Brian Strickland, would let victims petition the court to vacate convictions for crimes committed while they were being trafficked. Strickland, R-McDonough, who is one of Kemp’s floor leaders, said the measure would reduce a major barrier that keeps many formerly trafficked persons from finding stable employment.

“These are people that are trying to find their way away from something that’s all they know,” Strickland said Wednesday.

Another measure, House Bill 823 sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, would impose a lifetime ban on driving a commercial vehicle for persons convicted of human trafficking-related offenses. The ban would only apply for people who used commercial vehicles to traffic victims.

Other legislation includes a measure closing a loophole in state law aimed at punishing foster parents who sexually abuse children in their care. House Bill 911, introduced by Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, passed out of a House Judiciary Non-Civil subcommittee on Wednesday.