Monday, February 26, 2024

Abbott signs Nelson’s sexual assault, human trafficking bills

Senator Jane Nelson

Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, joined Governor Greg Abbott in Dallas on Tuesday for the signing of SB 71 and HB 8, addressing resources for sexual assault victims, and other legislation to combat human trafficking.

“This legislation, along with the investments we made in the budget, will ensure that sexual assault survivors get the justice they deserve,” said Nelson, who is the sponsor of HB 1, the appropriations act and chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “Our budget also prioritizes human trafficking — a form of modern-day slavery that has no place in Texas.”

SB 71 establishes a Telehealth Program that will give survivors across the state access to expert forensic care from certified sexual assault nurses, according to a news release from Nelson’s office. HB 8 addresses the backlog of sexual assault kits.

HB 1 adds $54M to hire additional staff and increase capacity at the state’s crime labs, and rider 49 by Senator Nelson prioritizes those resources for the testing of sexual assault kits. HB 1 also includes:

  • a $7.7M-increase for rape crisis centers to expand services to every county in the state;
  • $6M in grants for Sexual Assault Forensic Exam ready facilities to encourage capacity building for health care providers treating victims of assault;
  • $10M to provide basic civil legal services to victims of sexual assault;
  • $1.4M to fund the newly established Sexual Assault Survivor’s Trask Force within the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office;
  • $350,000 to establish a statewide protective order registry to better protect victims of assault and violence;
  • $1M to expand the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program using telehealth via Senator Nelson’s SB 71; and
  • funding for a new attorney at the Special Prosecution Unit to focus on juvenile sexual assault and creates a new sexual assault coordinator position at the Military Department.

To address human trafficking, Senator Nelson authored SB 72 — which establishes the Human Trafficking Coordinating Council — to ensure that agencies involved in the fight against human trafficking are coordinating efforts. Related Rider 17.12 in Article IX captures, for the first time, statewide spending on anti-human trafficking efforts and outlines coordination and reporting duties of affected agencies. Her HB 1 provides:

  • $37.8M for anti-human trafficking efforts at the Department of Public Safety, including $27.9M in new funding for anti-child sex and human trafficking efforts and anti-gang squads;
  • $5.7M total for the Human Trafficking Section at the Office of the Attorney General to handle additional prosecutions, a $3.5M increase over the current budget;
  • $5.7M to support the Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Unit within the Office of the Governor;
  • $60,000 for a training program for nurses to help recognize victims of human trafficking at the Department of State Health Services;
  • $1.2M to fund staff for human trafficking prevention at the Department of Family and Protective Services;
  • $200,000 for signs at public transportation hubs regarding services and assistance available to victims of human trafficking through the Texas Department of Transportation;
  • $6.1M for anti-human trafficking related efforts at establishments licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission; and
  • $1.7M for a dedicated anti-human trafficking unit at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Adding in her legislative package from this session, Nelson has now passed more than 30 pieces of legislation relating to sexual assault and domestic violence, according to her office. In addition to SB 71, SB 72 and HB 8, this session the Legislature approved the following measures by Nelson:

  • HB 616, streamlining the process for forensic exam and kit reimbursement to provide efficiency and promote access for survivors of sexual assault;
  • HB 1865, requiring fingerprint background checks for massage therapists — a bill filed after a Flower Mound woman was raped by a massage therapist with a record of violence against women; and
  • SB 234, making it easier for victims of domestic violence to terminate their lease early and escape danger.
Nelson represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the highest-ranking Republican in the Texas Senate.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
Mark Smith is the Digital Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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