(The Center Square) -
HB 1540 was filed by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. It passed both chambers of the state legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
The new law creates a separate offense for buying sex and raises the penalty to a state felony subject to jail time. It expands first-degree felony human trafficking to include certain actions related to obtaining victims from shelters or certain residential facilities. It also requires the state to deny some alcoholic beverage licenses and permits if drink solicitation occurs. It also amends provisions governing common nuisance lawsuits relating to prostitution and illegal massage operations, and amends provisions on civil racketeering relating to human trafficking.
The bill also includes a trespassing offense for those who traffic through a residential treatment center. Traffickers are targeting these centers, the House Research Organization bill analysis states, in order to lure and recruit children. The bill gives law enforcement "another tool to combat this through the trespassing statute and by expanding child safety, drug-free, and gang-free zones," it states.
"Texas is the first in the country to punish sex buyers with felonies, which is a substantial step towards curbing the demand for commercial sex," Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. "Human trafficking is modern day slavery - targeting vulnerable men, women and children in our communities. I commend our legislature for passing laws that fight this inexcusable offense."
The bill is one of many that Thompson has introduced over the last 11 years to combat human trafficking. In 2010, she led the First Annual International Conference on Human Trafficking at the state Capitol to raise awareness about Texas being a major human trafficking hub.
In 2011, Thompson filed bills incorporating many of the recommendations given by the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, formed by then Attorney General Greg Abbott. They included clarifying in the state's human trafficking statute the definitions of sex and labor trafficking, extending the criminal statute of limitations for human trafficking crimes, requiring offenders who are convicted of sex trafficking to be registered as a sex offender, adding human trafficking offenses and compelling prostitution as a 3g offense within the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and increasing the penalty for compelling prostitution of a child to a felony of the first degree.
In 2016, as one of his first major initiatives, Paxton formed the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section, tasked with combating human trafficking across Texas. It has helped train more than 25,000 people in person throughout Texas on human trafficking and has assisted in numerous prosecutions of human trafficking cases resulting in multiple felony convictions and 441 years of prison time for traffickers in Texas.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Texas has the second highest rate of human trafficking behind California among all 50 states. According to a 2016 Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project of Texas, there were more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including nearly 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking.
Minor and youth sex trafficking costs the state of Texas approximately $6.6 billion annually, and traffickers exploit approximately $600 million from victims of labor trafficking in Texas.