Northwest Florida congressman Matt Gaetz took to social media Thursday to defend his controversial vote against an uncontroversial bill intended to combat human trafficking.
The bill passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate, and Gaetz was the lone member of Congress to vote against the bill in the House, where it was approved 418 to 1 on Dec. 19.
Cris Dosev, a Republican challenging Gaetz for reelection next year, was sharply critical of Gaetz’s vote on Wednesday. “That Matt Gaetz could vote against a law to fight human trafficking and the sex slave trade is beyond comprehension,” Dosev said in a statement. “What was he thinking?”
“It brings law enforcement, anti- trafficking groups, and transportation people together to compare notes and pool information and resources,” Dosev said, referring to the bill. “This is something military and business organizations do every day, to improve critical outcomes. It’s basic management 101. Who votes against that?”
Gaetz first publicly defended his vote earlier this week on Twitter. “I vote against all bills that create new federal boards/commissions/agencies,” Gaetz wrote, apparently referring to the bill’s establishment of an unpaid advisory committee for federal officials to develop recommendations on how best to fight human trafficking.
On Thursday evening, Gaetz expanded on his opposition to the bill in a live Facebook broadcast.
“I think it’s very important that we combat human trafficking, but I do not believe the correct answer is a new federal agency,” Gaetz said.
Despite Gaetz’s comments, the three-page bill — which can be read online on Congress’ web site — doesn’t create any new federal agency, or any bureaucracy at all beyond the unpaid 15-member advisory committee. The bill was cosponsored by both of Florida’s two U.S. Senators: Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio.
“In our office, we have a rule, if there’s legislation that creates a new government entity, a new agency, a new board, a new commission, a new council, we immediately scrutinize that,” Gaetz explained. “And unless there is an overwhelming, compelling reason that our existing agencies in the federal government can’t handle that problem, I vote no.”
Northwest Florida voters didn’t send him to Washington to “go and create more federal government,” Gaetz said.
“If anything we should be abolishing a lot of the agencies at the federal level, like the Department of Education, like the EPA, and sending that power back to our state governments,” Gaetz added.
Human trafficking remains a major concern in Northwest Florida, where the cross-country Interstate 10 corridor runs through the region. Florida ranks third in the United States for human trafficking cases. Some 550 human trafficking cases were reported in the state in 2016. A regional human trafficking task force encompassing Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties was organized last year by Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.