New Texas laws to support survivors and prevent violenceWritten by Piper Stege Nelson
The 2019 Texas legislative session just came to a close and the results are starting to settle out. Because SAFE works on a wide array of issues (child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual harassment, bullying, etc.), there is a wide array of legislation passed that will impact our work.
In conjunction with our remarkable statewide advocacy partners (TAASA, TCFV, TACFS, TexProtects, TNOYS, etc.), SAFE staff played an important role this session ensuring that proposed legislation would work for the individuals and families we serve. Thank you to the many staff and volunteers who met with legislative staff, drafted testimony, talked with press, provided committee testimony, organized legislative briefings, registered SAFE support or opposition to bills, and so much more.
Here is a bit more detail on some of the legislative items passed in our issue areas:
- $6 million new grant program to support Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE)-ready facilities and to incentive facilities to become SAFE-ready
- $57.7 million (increased from past budgets) to expand on the resources, facilities, and trained technicians necessary to improve Texas’ sexual assault kit testing capabilities.
- $1.3 million for the new Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force, which will monitor the planned increase in lab capacity over the next four years and sexual assault nurse examiner access statewide.
- HB 8 (Neave) sets timelines around each phase of the sexual assault kit testing process, requiring law enforcement to take possession of the kit within seven days, labs to complete analysis within 90 days, and labs complete a comparison of DNA evidence to the national CODIS database within 30 days of completing the analysis. Survivors must be provided information about their rights related to the exam and kit. The bill also extends the statute of limitations for sex offenses if lab analysis of the kit has not occurred within the time limit. Additionally, the bill requires an audit to determine the current status of sexual assault examination kits in the state.
- SB 71 (Nelson) establishes a statewide telehealth center to ensure survivors can access specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).
- HB 1590 (Howard) establishes a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force charged with handling communication between state agencies. It would also collect, study, and inform the public on the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of sex offenses and the services provided to survivors.
- HB 4531 (Neave) says that adults in later life and adults with disabilities in Texas, and especially those with intellectual/cognitive and developmental disabilities, can give informed consent to their own SANE exams/evidence collection/medical care following sexual assault (with or without their guardian’s or facility staff’s approval). On the other hand, if this person does not want evidence collected following a sexual assault, they can say no even if a guardian or facility staff member wants the person to be examined or have evidence collected.
- HB 616 (Neave) allows for direct Center for Crime Victims’ reimbursement to the entities providing sexual assault forensic exams and brings the time period for exams to be conducted after a sexual assault to five days statewide.
- SB 194 (Perry) creates the offense of indecent assault. It would be a class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $4,000) to engage in certain types of touching or other conduct involving exposure or cause another to contact the blood, other body fluids, or feces of any person “without the other person’s consent and with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”
- SB 586 (Watson) requires training for peace officers on best practices and trauma-informed investigation techniques and creates certification for special sexual assault and family violence investigators.
- SB 72 (Nelson) establishes a human trafficking prevention council made up of various state agencies to develop a 5-year plan to prevent and address human trafficking statewide.
- SB 20 (Huffman) sets up two new criminal offenses for the online promotion of sex trafficking. The bill creates new offenses related to the promotion of prostitution, revises penalties for some prostitution offenses, revises procedures concerning orders of nondisclosure for certain survivors of human trafficking, and allows the attorney general to contract to collect information on human trafficking. It also enhances tools to fight online sex trafficking and increases the penalties for buyers and creates a process for survivors to clear their records in certain instances of human trafficking.
- Funding to be allocated to agencies providing foster care increased by $12 million.
- HOPES received $1.45 million (an increase over the last budget) for biennium, which helps fund SAFE’s Strong Start program
- The Nurse Family Partnership received $2.89 million (an increase over the last budget) for biennium
- The increased demand for post-adopt/post-permanency services resulted in $3.14 million in additional funds
- The need for increased behavioral treatment slots for post-adopt/post-permanency services resulted in $2.5 million additional funds
- HB 53 (Minjarez) adds additional training opportunities for obtaining auto insurance, civic engagement, financial training, etc. for foster youth in preparation for adulthood.
- HB 123 (White) removes the fee for foster youth and homeless youth for obtaining personal documentation such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, etc.
- HB 2764 (Frank) creates a 35-hour threshold for foster parent pre-service training, with exceptions for children with high needs children, etc.
- SB 568 (Huffman) adds administrative penalties for community organizations, including a $1,000 fine for abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a child. Language was added on the Senate side so community organizations would not be double-fined by both Department of Family and Protective Services and Health and Human Services Commission.
- HB 1884 (Minjarez) requires the court and CPS caseworker to inform a kinship family of the option to become verified by a Child Protection Agency (CPA) to operate an agency foster home and permanency care assistance program.
- HB 475 (Howard) requires that children in state care who are pregnant or minor parents receive information on and support in providing safe environments for children, including sleeping arrangements, suggestions for childproofing potentially dangerous settings in a home, the importance of prenatal and postpartum care for both the mother and infant, and more.
- HB 72 (White) allows for children adopted out of the foster care system who are or were on SSI to remain in the STAR Health program upon adoption if the family so chooses.
- HB 3809 (Goldman) extends the statute of limitations for certain offenses involving sexual abuse from 15 years to 30 years.
- HB 811 (White) requires school districts to consider when determining punishment if a child is in foster care and if the student is homeless.
- HB 1702 (Howard) requires the foster care liaison at a college to obtain names annually of students at the institution who were in foster care and requires the college or university to publicly provide contact information for the liaison and information on supports for former foster youth.
- HB 1709 (Gonzalez) clarifies that state employees are only prohibited from acting as surrogates if they are employed by agencies involved in the education or care of the child, requires school districts to notify DFPS when surrogates are appointed, and clarifies that if a court appoints a surrogate who the school district finds is not performing their duties, the district must consult with DFPS to request that the court remove the surrogate from their appointment.
- SB 355 (West) requires DFPS to create a strategic plan and an implementation plan to ensure prevention services in Texas meet the definition necessary to receive federal funds under the Families First Act. Language was added to this bill which requires DFPS to create a strategic plan for Community-Based Care implementation as well.
- $59.8 million allocated for shelter beds, basic needs, and case management for domestic violence survivors, compared to a budget of $57.7 million for these same items in the last session.
- $5.5 million allocated for domestic violence work, including legal advocacy, mental health, counseling, and economic stability. This is compared to $1 million passed for this same work in the last session.
- SB 234 (Nelson) protects survivors of domestic violence in regard to lease termination and ensures safe housing for tenants expanding the allowable documentation to include emergency orders following an arrest for a family violence offense, certification from a licensed medical or mental health provider, or certification from a family violence program advocate.
- HB 3091 (Deshotel) makes it a criminal offense for a person, with the intent to threaten the safety of any inhabitant of a family violence shelter center or survivors of trafficking shelter center, to disclose or publicize the location or physical layout of the center. The offense would be a class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $4,000).
- SB 325 (Huffman) establishes a protective order registry and the duties of courts in regard to the registry.
- SB 212 (Huffman) states that an employee who witnesses or receives information regarding an alleged incident of SH, SA, DV, or stalking committed by or against an enrolled student or employ must report it to the Title IX or deputy Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator will report to the institution’s CEO and the CEO will report to the institution’s governing body & post a report on the institution’s website.
- HB 1735 (Howard) creates revised requirements for higher education institution policies on reporting and responding to campus sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking at the state’s higher education institutions. The bill would define “dating violence,” “sexual assault,” and “stalking.”
For more information about these bills, authors, and other details, please visit Texas Legislature Online at capitol.texas.gov. For background information and additional details, use the site’s “Search Legislation” function. Type in the bill number you are interested in (e.g., “HB 8”) and select “bill number” before clicking “Go.” From there, click the “Text” tab and then click on “HRO Bill Analysis” for research and analysis of the bill.
Please feel free to contact SAFE’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Piper Stege Nelson, with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.