Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced a sweeping proposal aimed at better protecting people from human trafficking as well as tackling sexual misconduct allegations at the Texas Capitol and throughout state government.
Abbott's "Preventing Crime, Protecting Texans, Punishing Criminals" plan includes allocating $22 million to the Department of Public Safety for the creation of regional squads to investigate human trafficking cases and for training local law enforcement. He also wants to target the state's backlog of sexual assault evidence kits, calling for lawmakers to allocate an additional $14 million in the next two-year budget to clear the backlog.
"You have my commitment that I will continue to work to heal victims, to help prevent these despicable crimes and to punish the criminals who commit them," said Abbott in a news release.
Abbott also waded into ongoing efforts to address a pervasive culture of sexual misconduct at the Texas Capitol. His plan includes a recommendation to designate the Texas Rangers as an entity that could collect reports of sexual assault and other "sexual offenses" by legislators, statewide elected officials and other Capitol employees.
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For years, sexual harassment claims in the Texas House and Senate have been handled by officials with little incentive or authority to enforce policies, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers. In recent months, lawmakers and experts have called for a more impartial body to be able to deal with such complaints.
Under Abbott's proposal, the Public Integrity Unit of the Texas Rangers would carry out criminal investigations related to those allegations.
Other proposals in the governor's plan include using GPS monitoring for repeat sex offenders and perpetrators of family or domestic violence and creating a "do-not-hire" registry for school employees placed on probation or convicted of improper relationships with students. He also wants to make it illegal for a sex offender to be in the same car as a minor who is not a family member.
Last year, The Texas Tribune’s Sold Out series examined how state policies — including a severely underfunded child welfare system — failed to help child sex-trafficking victims. And in November, the Tribune reported on on how sexual harassment policies at the Texas Capitol offered little protection to victims facing degrading comments, groping and unwanted sexual advances, prompting immediate calls by state leaders to better address the issue. Abbott's plan Tuesday mentioned both reports.
Alexa Ura contributing reporting to this story.