Texas Passes Two Human Trafficking Bills-Texas Legislative Update

*The following is written by Betsy Stukes, Summer Legal Intern & J.D. Candidate, The University of Texas School of Law*

Two bills punishing human traffickers recently were signed into law in Texas. While there have been laws at the federal level to prosecute those who force others to engage in labor or sexual acts against their will, these two laws make it easier to prosecute and punish at the county and local level. Both bills received bi-partisan support. HRI applauds Representative Thompson and the passage of these bills.

SB 24

Introduced by Senator Van de Putte, this bill seeks to crack down on human trafficking at the local level. The Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force issued a report by Texas’s Office of the Attorney General, making recommendations for prosecutors who are trying human trafficking cases and helping to provide protection to victims and to improve cooperation with state agencies. These recommendations are codified by this law as legislative recommendations. The law also adds human trafficking to the list of crimes eligible for an automatic life sentence for subsequent convictions, and it toughens the condition for parole and bail for traffickers. Trafficking offenses are separately defined as human trafficking in forced sexual acts and those involving forced labor. This law also requires all sex traffickers to register in the Sex Offenders Registry and extends the statute of limitations for trafficking offenses in both civil and criminal court.

The law also adds relief for children who are victims of sex trafficking. Under this law, a parent or guardian of a child who was a victim of sex trafficking can file a protective order against the trafficker on behalf of the child. In addition, the bill increases the penalty for compelling the prostitution of a child to a first-degree felony, punishable by 5-99 years in prison.

Governor Perry signed this bill into law on April 21, 2011, and it will go into effect September 1, 2011.

HB 3000

Introduced by Representative Thompson, this bill creates the first-degree felony offense of continuous trafficking of persons. This offense applies to offenders who commit human trafficking two or more times during a period that is thirty days or longer. The law gives preference for assigning continuous trafficking of persons cases to a court with juvenile jurisdiction, though the statute covers more than just juvenile cases. Under this law, a person convicted of continuous trafficking of persons is now eligible for an automatic life sentence without parole for subsequent convictions and is ineligible for many alternatives for inmates such as mandatory community supervision, early release on parole, or intensive supervision programs. The law makes parole and bail more difficult for offenders, including by requiring a two-thirds vote of the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles for the release on parole of an inmate convicted of continuous trafficking of persons. Additionally, violators will have to provide one or more specimens for the purpose of a DNA record.

Governor Perry signed this bill into law on May 25, 2011, and it will go into effect September 1, 2011, as will SB 24.

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