January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and advocates are working to bring attention to this form of modern-day slavery, which poses a growing threat to our state.
This is not just a border problem. It occurs in urban, suburban and rural communities, and more than an estimated 300,000 Texans are victims today.
This problem must be met with the full force of state government, and we are working on many fronts this session to make that happen.
For my part, I introduced SB 1, the Senate’s base budget, which includes $89 million across agencies to support investigations, prosecutions and services for victims. That’s an increase of $64 million over the current budget.
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In addition, I filed SB 72, which will encourage state agencies to coordinate resources and develop a strategic plan to address human trafficking. The additional funding will be provided across multiple agencies involved in this fight.
The Department of Public Safety is responsible for investigating and apprehending perpetrators of human trafficking. SB 1 provides an additional $60.8 million to establish an anti-gang and anti-human trafficking task force.
The office of Attorney General carries out human trafficking prosecutions, and our budget adds $2.8 million to hire more prosecutors.
Because abused children or foster care youth are particularly vulnerable, we are adding $1.3 million to the Department of Family and Protective Services to step up efforts to prevent at-risk children from being victimized.
One wouldn’t normally think of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) or the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) as agencies involved in this issue. However, they play important roles. TABC enforcement officers provide eyes and ears to identify suspicious activity at licensed entities, and our budget adds $5.6 million for that effort. TDLR licenses cosmetologists and other professionals who work in spas and salons — where victims forced into prostitution are often taken.
TDLR provides critical education to licensees, and we are adding more than $500,000 to expand that effort and create a rapid-response team.
These are worthy endeavors that need to be coordinated as outlined in SB 72. Last year this issue literally hit home for me. Police confirmed that a house in Flower Mound — my hometown — was being used as part of a trafficking ring.
Human trafficking has no place in Texas — or anywhere in modern society. Together we must eradicate it.