On September 1, 2021, Texas implemented a landmark new law.
Those who purchase sex will now face a felony charge.
Democratic representative Senfronia Thompson initially filed HB 1540. It was then passed by both state legislative chambers, then signed by Governor Greg Abbott. The signing of HB 1540 makes buying sex a separate offense and the penalty is now a state felony, which means those found guilty of buying sex are subject to jail time.
While the passing of HB 1540 makes it seem like the purchase of sex was previously legal in Texas, that’s not the case. Prostitution in all forms has been illegal in Texas for many years, with those buying sex risking arrest.
According to Section 43.02 of the Texas Penal Code, it’s illegal for anyone to solicit a prostitute to engage with him or her in sexual conduct for money.
The difference is that HB 1540 has redefined solicitation and made the act a felony, even for a first offense.
Texas is the first state in the country to have passed such a bill.
Additionally, the new law changes the current first-degree felony charge for human trafficking to include many of the actions that someone who tries to get their victims from shelters and/or residential facilities.
Furthermore, if solicitation occurs at a business that sells alcoholic beverages, the state can deny the business a liquor license. Another provision in the law amends lawsuits involving prostitution and illegal massage parlors.
In instances where criminals traffic within residential treatment centers, the bill offers the opportunity to include trespassing charges. There have been many instances where traffickers are utilizing residential treatment centers to gain access to children.
Prior to the passing of HB 1540, soliciting prostitution was a Class B misdemeanor. Under Texas Penal Code §43.021, those who solicit a prostitute will now face a state jail felony or a third-degree felony. If the solicitation involves a minor, the felony becomes a second-degree offense.
Attorney General Ken Paxton likened human trafficking to slavery in that those who traffic are “targeting vulnerable men, women and children in our communities.”
This isn’t the first time Rep. Thompson has tried to get a bill like HB 1540 passed. She introduced several bills over the past decade in an effort to fight human trafficking. She also has worked to raise awareness about Texas’ position as a human trafficking hub since 2010 at the First Annual International Conference on Human Trafficking.
AG Paxton isn’t new to combatting human trafficking, either. He formed the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section, which works to fight human trafficking across the state. The Human Trafficking Section has trained over 25,000 Texans about human trafficking and led to many prosecutions.
Texas is second only to California in the rate of human trafficking in the U.S., according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
If you or a loved one were arrested for purchasing sex, you’ll need a strong Houston prostitution defense attorney on your side. Contact the Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp for your free consultation.