AUSTIN – State Representative Tony Dale filed House Bill 861 to protect children from online predators. This legislation will narrow down certain legal definitions involving minors who are solicited online to meet for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual conduct.
In 2005 Texas adopted a law that made it a third degree felony for adults to solicit minors via the Internet. The 2005 law stated that a person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if they intentionally communicate in a sexually explicit manner over the Internet with an individual who represents himself or herself to be younger than 17 years of age.
In October 2013 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals struck down part of that law citing it was unconstitutionally vague and, “overbroad because it prohibits a wide array of constitutionally protected speech and is not narrowly drawn to achieve only the legitimate objective of protecting children from sexual abuse."
Representative Dale issued the following statement:
“The use of the Internet by sexual predators is a serious issue. This bill will fill gaps in the law that currently allows predators to groom minors for illicit purposes. Although part of the law was struck down, the Court of Criminal Appeals agrees with me that there is a compelling need to prosecute predators who attempt to solicit minors for unlawful activity, even when the individual does not show up for the meeting. My bill puts the law back on the side of the victims and law enforcement.”
Aaron Crowell, a Vice-President at Texas Municipal Police Association, says their group supports the legislation. “Texas Law enforcement is grateful for Representative Dale’s efforts to close this glaring loophole in state law to once again allow Texas law enforcement to have the tools they need to protect Texas children from online predators.”
Representative Dale’s local Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty weighed in with the following comment:
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen the Internet offers child predators numerous opportunities to groom and abuse children in our community. While I respect the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision striking down part of the Online Solicitation statute, I am encouraged that Representative Dale’s bill will put real teeth back into this very important law. Texans, and especially Williamson County residents in District 136, are fortunate to have such an advocate at the Capitol protecting our children.”
Additionally, Justin Wood, Legislative Liaison for the Harris County District Attorney’s office offered his support as well. “The Harris County District Attorney’s office, in coordination with prosecutors across the State, would like to thank Representative Dale for carrying this important piece of legislation. We will work hard to ensure this legislation passes so that children in our communities will continue to be protected.”
A full text of the bill can be found here:
State Representative Tony Dale is a member of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, the House Select Committee on Child Protection, and the House Energy Resources Committee. He represents southwestern Williamson County, Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek, and parts of Austin and Round Rock.