AUSTIN – Today State Representative Tony Dale passed Senate Bill 344/House Bill 861 to protect children from online predators. Senate Bill 344 was authored by Senator Joan Huffman. 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. This bill will now go to the Governor for his signature.
In 2005 Texas adopted a law that made it a third degree felony for adults to solicit minors via the Internet. 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."
Since that time, there has existed no punishable offense for online solicitation of a minor because the ruling occurred during the legislative interim. House Bill 861 & Senate Bill 344 replace the broad statute with very specific language that describes online solicitation as having the intent to commit sexual abuse against children.
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, there is still a compelling need to prosecute predators who attempt to solicit minors for unlawful activity. My bill puts the law back on the side of the victims and law enforcement.”
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 also offered his support.
“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.”
Andrea Sparks , Executive Director of the Texas office for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children commented as well.
“The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Texas Regional Office applauds Rep. Dale and the Texas Legislature for passing HB 861. This law will help law enforcement protect children from online offenders. NCMEC is receiving an increase in reports of sextortion, where children are groomed and then blackmailed into sending offenders explicit photos and videos of themselves or meeting in person. HB 861 will allow law enforcement to intervene in these cases sooner rather than later and, hopefully protect the child from being victimized.”
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 Energy Resources Committee and the House Local & Consent Calendars Committee. He represents southwestern Williamson County, Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek, and parts of Austin and Round Rock.