EL PASO — After a Texas Tribune series exposed how state leaders' crusade against sex trafficking has led to mostly empty laws and unfunded programs, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton acknowledged that few resources are available to actually help sex-trafficking victims — but said it's not up to him to change that.
"I don't get to decide policy. What I do is, I enforce whatever the Legislature gives me authority to do," Paxton said, after holding a press conference to announce a new partnership between his office's human trafficking unit and trucking businesses in El Paso.
"Would we love to have more help? Yeah, we would," Paxton said, referring to the lack of funding to help sex-trafficking victims. "But we'll take what we can get."
The El Paso event was the third public appearance Paxton has made in the past few weeks to tout his efforts to combat sex trafficking. In January, he announced a new training video on the topic for state employees, and earlier this month, he spoke on the steps of the Texas Capitol during an anti-trafficking rally and press conference.
The Republican from Plano said he became interested in the issue while serving in the Texas Senate. But while many bills intended to combat trafficking passed while he was in the Legislature, especially in the 2009 and 2011 sessions, hardly any funding was attached to them. "The Legislature, when they gave us this job, didn't actually fund it," he said.
In particular, one 2009 law created a grant program that could have received up to $10 million in state dollars but remains unfunded almost a decade later.
"Of course we'd like the appropriation, but ... we're gonna find a way to get this done. We put this together without the funding," Paxton said. He noted that his office's human trafficking unit does have one employee dedicated solely to helping victims.
After the Tribune's series showed the connections between the state's embattled child welfare system and child sex trafficking, Paxton has also come under fire for fighting a lawsuit against the state's long-term foster care system. In a letter sent Wednesday, Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington urged Paxton to to stop opposing a federal judge's 2015 mandate to overhaul the state agency charged with protecting vulnerable children.
"You and your office have inexplicably spent an inordinate amount of time, energy and money on pointless and unsuccessful appeals and objections,” the letter said.
Paxton said, "there's no doubt that there need to be changes in the whole [child welfare] system." But he added that, "I don't get to decide that anymore."
"I basically represent the state," he said. "And in this case, we're trying to leave the choices with, as much as we can, with the Legislature as opposed to the judiciary. And so that's my job."
Edgar Walters contributed to this report.