House Bill (HB) 29 is one of the two most recent bills in Texas aimed at battling human sex trafficking. On Monday, April 17th, 2017, HB 29 cleared the Texas House with widespread bipartisan support. While the majority of the sex trafficking bill went into effect in September 2017, one provision amending Texas’s Business and Commerce Code did not go into effect until 2019. On March 1st, 2019, certain businesses may have to upgrade their signage to comply with the final stipulation of the bill – or face misdemeanor charges for noncompliance.
Written by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, HB 29 deals with subjects of sex crimes, sex trafficking, prostitution, civil racketeering, and the prosecution and punishment for sexual offenses related to trafficking. It also touches on the subject of financial reimbursement of some costs for minor criminal trafficking victims. HB 29 went to the House along with a sister bill, House Bill 269. HB 269 would allow human sex trafficking victims forced into prostitution to request criminal record expungement.
HB 29 strengthens the penalties for some prostitution crimes, reinstates the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force and prioritizes child sex trafficking hearings at court. A previous bill had moved to disband the Task Force. The bill also cleans up existing sex trafficking statutes in the state and increases the penalty for those who promote prostitution – including individuals who aid others in selling sex. Finally, it issues new signage requirements for sexually oriented businesses, starting in March 2019.
The full text of the bill adds a subchapter to the Texas Business and Commerce Code, Chapter 102. The amendment to Chapter 102 requires sexually oriented businesses to post signs pointed at victims of human trafficking, 11” by 17” or larger. The sign must go near the sink in each of the premises’ restrooms and tell victims of human sex trafficking to contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for help.
The sign must contain the directions in English and Spanish and include the telephone number and URL of the Resource Center. The attorney general has the right to require signage in other languages or parameters. It is a Class C misdemeanor to fail to post the required signage as a sexually oriented business in Texas, or to post a sign that does not comply with the rules. March 1st, 2019, is the deadline by which sexually oriented businesses must post the required signage, or else face criminal penalties. Consequences for failing to obey the new law include fines and a permanent criminal record.
Many see House Bills 29 and 269 as steps in the right direction for the fight against human sex trafficking in Texas. HB 29 gives the attorney general the power to investigate and prosecute human trafficking as racketeering activities, a crime with greater penalties. It also permits victims of sex trafficking to seek reimbursement for some expenses through Texas’s victim’s compensation fund and requires truck driver trade schools to teach students how to detect signs of human trafficking.
Sex trafficking victims who have faced criminal charges for prostitution or other related sex crimes may finally find relief with house bills 29 and 269. Rather than facing charges and serious criminal consequences for life as a victim of sex trafficking, individuals may qualify for record expungement. This would clear the individual’s criminal record and make it easy to find work and housing.
Many victims feel they have no choice but to enter into prostitution after a life as a sex trafficking pawn. The new sex trafficking laws in Texas aim to improve life for these individuals, give them new hope for the future, and prevent sex trafficking in Texas for the next generation.