It's not a crime for people in Texas to have sex with animals. When law enforcement comes across animal sexual abuse cases, they often only prosecute offenders for animal cruelty or public lewdness, according to various officials.
A bill moving through the Texas House would officially outlaw bestiality, making participation in, promotion of or observation of any sexual contact with an animal punishable by up to two years in state jail. If an animal were to suffer serious bodily injuries or die because of the sexual contact, the offender would face a second-degree felony charge.
Protecting animals from sexual abuse also protects children from pedophiles and partners from sexual violence, the Houston Democrat said. Alvarado pointed to a 2008 sexual misconduct study that concluded there's a higher risk for committing child sexual abuse if a person has engaged in bestiality.
"I don't know how somebody can turn a blind eye to that, defend that or ignore that," Alvarado said, acknowledging that though her bill tackles an unorthodox issue, it should be taken seriously.
Last week, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved sending the bill to the full House for a vote. In the senate, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has filed an identical bill that is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg have told Alvarado in letters that they support the legislation. Both pointed to numerous cases of sexual abuse of animals in which prosecutors were only able to pursue charges for animal cruelty or public lewdness. Such laws don't cover, for example, the filming of animals in sexual situations, Ogg noted in her letter.
"By the time a suspect is developed, the medical evidence to substantiate the necessary elements under current laws cannot be recovered," she wrote.
"Additionally, there are many instances where our current laws cannot be applied, such as trafficking animals for sex, which is a problem directly connected to human trafficking," Ogg said in the letter. "H.B. No. 1087 is needed to explicitly prohibit sexual contact with animals or any activity that aids or abets the sexual abuse of animals."
Earlier this year, a then-Harris County sheriff's deputy was arrested on an obscenity charge and fired after video of him having sex with a dog was found online. Investigators also found images of child pornography on his personal computer, for which he faces federal charges. The instance "illustrates perfectly why the issue of bestiality does not just affect animals," said Katie Jarl, the Texas state director of the Humane Society.
"It affects every member of our community, and it's something that we believe the public should be very concerned about, especially at a time when our Legislature is so closely looking at ways to protect children," Jarl said.
Alvarado said if her bill reaches the House floor, she will add an amendment to address criticism that the bill could ensnare people who work with animals from being charged with a sex crime. The bill currently states that veterinary and husbandry practices are a "defense to prosecution."
The bill's current wording is concerning, said Patrick Tarlton, executive director of the Texas Deer Association.
"We utilize animal husbandry techniques that require us to insert an instrument or a finger or a procedural tool into the genitals or the anus of an animal," he said.
"So, in doing so, we kind of are the unintended consequence of sorts for a bill like this, and it is certainly not the author's intent to include animal husbandry and other things like that in the bill," Tarlton said. "I think they have been very supportive of amendments and other things to ensure that good, biological, veterinarian animal husbandry techniques are excluded."
While people such as members of the Texas Deer Association would be "OK" under the current bill language, Alvarado said, "we have to come up with something else to make sure there's clarity in the bill."
Read more stories about criminal justice legislation:
- The Texas Senate recently passed a bill requiring schools to teach teens about interacting with police. The proposal now heads to the House.
- State lawmakers are considering a bill that would speed up the process of releasing jailed defendants who are considered unlikely to skip their court date or become safety risks.
- Thousands of Texans are at risk of being arrested at any given moment for not paying fines often related to traffic offenses or other city ordinance violations, according to a recent report.