HOUSTON (CN) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott unveiled a plan to ask the Legislature for more than $35 million to crack down on sex traffickers, beef up investigations into state lawmakers accused of sexual harassment, and create a do-not-hire registry for teachers convicted of preying on students.
Abbott’s “Preventing Crime, Protecting Texans, Punishing Criminals” initiative is part of his 2018 campaign for a second term as governor.
The Republican is expected to easily win re-election in a state that has not had a Democratic governor since the late Ann Richards left office in January 1995.
As a former Texas Supreme Court justice and the state’s longest-serving attorney general, from December 2002 to January 2015, Abbott is well acquainted with state law that he says lets sex traffickers off too easy.
Abbott’s plan, which he announced Tuesday at a news conference in Houston, calls for $22 million to set up of six regional human-trafficking investigation squads within the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“Since 2009, DPS has opened more than 100 criminal investigations into child trafficking, sexual abuse, and related offenses, and rescued more than 250 children,” his gubernatorial campaign said in 32-page report detailing his plan.
Abbott is also urging state lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure that pimps convicted of sex trafficking are sentenced to jail and not probation.
As Exhibit A, he highlighted the case of Bruce Wayne Wallis. Then a United Airlines pilot, Wallis, 53, was arrested in March 2016 and charged with running a chain of Houston-area brothels.
He was sentenced to five years probation, fined $2,000 and ordered to do 150 hours of community service.
Abbott also wants to make it mandatory for those convicted of promoting prostitution to register as sex offenders, and for the state to establish a way for sex-trafficking victims to get prostitution convictions expunged from their records.
The governor’s decision to announce his plan in Houston is clearly linked to the city’s reputation as a hub of human trafficking. Quoting the president of Houston nonprofit Children at Risk, the Houston Chronicle recently reported the city has more brothels, 400, than Starbucks coffee shops.
But Abbott’s plan also targets the state capitol in Austin. He wants the Texas Rangers, a division of DPS, authorized to open criminal investigations into sexual harassment claims against state lawmakers, judges, officials and employees.
The wide-ranging plan further seeks to address the problem of Texas educators exploiting students. Last year, Abbott denounced Texas school districts that do not discipline, or report to prosecutors, teachers accused of sexual misconduct with students, allowing them to be rehired by other districts and target more students.
“In Fiscal Year 2016, the [Texas Education Agency] launched investigations into 222 teachers based on allegations of improper relationships with students, an 80 percent increase since 2008,” the plan summary states.
Abbott is calling on state lawmakers to create a do-not-hire registry for school employees who have been convicted of, or put on probation for, improper relationships with students. Private and charter school employees would not be exempt under Abbott’s plan.
According to the governor, there is a backlog of 15,000 untested rape kits in Texas. He wants the Legislature to allocate $14 million to test the kits and fund a DPS-managed rape-kit tracking system the state set up last year.
Though Abbott, a devout Catholic, has alienated Texas Democrats by signing or endorsing legislation to restrict abortions and keep transgender people out of bathrooms that do not match their birth gender, his plan to crack down on sex crimes will likely receive bipartisan support in Austin.
The Legislature meets for six months every other year. Its next session starts in January 2019.