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Bill of the Week: Human Traffickers Beware, Van de Putte Is Coming For You

Senator wants to protect children and nab traffickers

By Jordan Smith, 10:00AM, Sat. Jan. 5, 2013

Bill of the Week: Human Traffickers Beware, Van de Putte Is Coming For You

This week we've not one bill but three BsOTW, filed by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, that together aim to protect child victims and to put human traffickers out of business.

Van de Putte has been the Lege's most ardent anti-trafficking crusader, a quest she's been on since receiving a call from a doctor who shared with her the plight of a child who was being trafficked. Van de Putte did a bit of research and was stunned to learn how far-reaching the problem had become in Texas. Indeed, according to the Houston-based child welfare advocacy group Children at Risk, Texas is actually a hub for the international human trafficking trade because of its border with Mexico, its shipping ports, and its highway system – including I-10, which the U.S. Department of Justice has designated as the number one route in the U.S. for human trafficking. I-10, of course, cuts right through San Antonio, and Van de Putte's district. Suffice it to say, she ain't havin' it.

Van de Putte has thus far been successful in pressing for legislation that spotlights the ongoing problem – among other things, over the last decade lawmakers have criminalized human trafficking, supported DOJ-implemented anti-trafficking task forces, supported victim resources, produced reports on the scope of the problem, and have mandated trafficking-related training for law enforcement agencies.

But she's not done yet. For the 83rd session, Van de Putte and Thompson are joining forces to move the ball forward again with a package of three bills that aim to tighten the screws on traffickers and provider further comfort and assistance for victims. Senate Bill 92 would divert young victims from the criminal justice system by recognizing them as victims. It would vacate criminal prostitution convictions and increase privacy for trafficking victims. SB 93 would extend the Texas Attorney General's Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force for two years, and SB 94 would provide trafficking victims an avenue to seek civil remedies from traffickers or from publishers of postings that advertise their compelled prostitution. "Children in Texas are being exploited and lured into prostitution, and we must begin to treat minors as the victims they are instead of criminals," Van de Putte said in November.

In order to keep up with the flood of bills filed throughout the legislative session, the News staff is picking one a week to highlight and explain more in-depth, whether it be good, bad, or altogether out of left field. For more Lege coverage, see Legeland.

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