83rd Legislative Session Recap: Human Trafficking

One of my priority issues at the Capitol is combating human trafficking. If you’re not familiar with that term, you may know it by its older name: slavery. Trafficking often means forced prostitution, and frequently, the victim is a child.

A few years ago, a physician working in Bexar County introduced me to a sex trafficking survivor, a young boy who nearly died from the physical trauma. I later learned the Interstate 10 corridor is a major hub of trafficking activity in the United States.

In the 82nd Session (2011) I joined my dear friend Rep. Senfronia Thompson to author landmark legislation cracking down on traffickers.

This session, I was proud to team up with Rep. Thompson again on these key bills that became law. The first three bills become law on September 1; the latter two are effective immediately:

House Bill 8 (HB 8) further enhances penalties for traffickers and offenders who exploit children. The law requires that those convicted of human trafficking and/or compelling prostitution must serve either half or 30 years of their sentence, whichever is less, before becoming eligible for parole. The law also increases the penalty for the offenses of promotion of prostitution, aggravated promotion of prostitution, and solicitation of a minor.

Along with strict penalties, the law provides important victim protections — it resolves conflicting human trafficking protective order statutes, allows survivors of human trafficking to receive reimbursements for relocation expenses under the Crime Victim's Compensation Act, and survivors become eligible to participate in the Address Confidentiality Program

Senate Bill 92 (SB 92) — Too often in the past, minors involved in prostitution were simply regarded as troubled youth and delinquents, when, in reality, they were crime victims being controlled by a trafficker, children who needed help. SB 92 allows juvenile probation departments the ability to create a diversion program with treatment and services for minors who may be victims of human trafficking. 

SB 94The Internet has made the criminal enterprise of sex trafficking much easier, specifically through online postings on websites where adult ads are published. SB 94 provides an additional legal mechanism for victims of sex trafficking to sue the person who forced them into prostitution or a person who purchases an advertisement that he or she reasonably knows is promotion of prostitution.

HB 1272In 2009, the Legislature created the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force to study this crime, but the task force’s mandate was scheduled to end this year. HB 1272 extends the life of the task force for another two years and requires it to work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to develop indicators and a standardized curriculum that help educators, health professionals, and DFPS personnel on how to identify a victim of human trafficking.

And finally, HB 2725 allows human trafficking shelters and child-placing agencies to be exempt from public information requests about the location and physical layout of the shelter and contact information of staff and victims in the shelter. The law also requires the Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission to develop minimum standards for human trafficking shelters.

I am proud of the tremendous effort of our local officials and organizations including District Attorney Susan Reed and her staff, our Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau and Deputy Sheriffs, the San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and SAPD Officers, Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department officials including David Rilley, John Moran and Maricela Morales and our wonderful faith based and community based service providers and advocates. Their expertise and support was critical in the passing of these important bills combating modern day slavery.

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte represents District 26, which includes portions of San Antonio and Bexar County.