Making an Impact in the 87th Texas Legislative Session

It has been one of the greatest joys of my work at Allies to see us grow, change, and adapt to the needs of the moment. The last 18 months were no different. From dealing with the effects of COVID-19 to launching Lighthouse as a statewide data platform, I am beyond proud of how our team has adjusted and kept moving our mission forward. The reality is, the victims we seek to serve cannot afford for us to delay.

One of the most exciting ways our work has grown in 2021 is through increased advocacy during the 87th Texas Legislative session. The complex nature of human trafficking and the previous lack of substantial aggregate data has made effective anti-trafficking policy making challenging at times.  Given the aggregate trend data now available through Lighthouse, we believe providing data-driven support for policies is a necessary contribution for Allies to make.

Despite complexity and challenge, the anti-trafficking movement in Texas has achieved much in the past decade, piloting the charge for effective policy making in this arena. In 2003, only three years after the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed, Texas added Chapter 20 to our penal code to create the state’s legal framework for fighting trafficking. As our country became increasingly aware of the problem human trafficking poses, Texas led the charge in disrupting traffickers, caring for victims, and preventing exploitation.

Building upon this foundation, we worked with incredible partners including Children at Risk, Fort Bend Child Advocates, and the Texas Attorney General’s office, providing data from Lighthouse to support and enhance their legislative recommendations.  While we didn’t get every policy passed that we wanted ( how often does that happen ), I am thrilled with the progress we made during the session. My top highlights were:

  • Testifying in support of Representative Leman’s House Bill 1005 which increases information requirements for individuals released on bond with trafficking related charges and conditions said bonds on traffickers ceasing communications of all types with their victims. This bill provides expanded protections for human trafficking victims and provides more options for prosecutors to investigate, track, and ultimately charge traffickers. This bill passed, was signed by Governor Abbott, and takes effect September 1, 2021.

  • Providing supporting data for House Bill 1540 which provides, among other things, increased protections around residential treatment centers (RTC). RTCs can often be places traffickers recruit children and young adults. RTCs provide essential counseling, health care services, and education services to children and young adults who are experiencing difficulty with emotional disorders and/or substance abuse. Traffickers know that the children living in RTCs are among the most vulnerable, and they directly target RTCs in order to lure these youth into commercial sexual exploitation and other illicit activities. Screening data in Lighthouse about RTCs shows that least one-third of their clients screen at the highest level of vulnerability to trafficking—“clear concern”. This means those children in their care have demonstrated numerous risk factors for sex trafficking at the severest level. House Bill 1540 provides much needed protections to ensure youth at RTCs can receive needed services without the threat of being re-victimized by a trafficker. This bill also passed, was signed by Governor Abbott, and takes effect September 1, 2021.

Both of these bills represent encouraging steps forward for the anti-trafficking movement, ensuring that prosecutors have more options for charging traffickers and that victims and survivors are protected. At Allies, we firmly believe that better data saves lives and are honored to have contributed to the progress achieved in the 87th session.

While the road ahead is long and there is still much work to be done, I have more confidence than ever that there will be a day, even if not in my lifetime, where traffickers cannot exploit the vulnerable and survivors have everything they need to heal.

To my partners throughout the session, you each inspired me with your dedication and tenacity. See you in the 88th!

Till everyone is free,

Torey Tipton