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February 21, 2007 (512) 463-0300

BILLS FILED TO INCREASE CHILD SAFETY AT SCHOOL AND ON-LINE

(AUSTIN) Senators Judith Zaffirini and Florence Shapiro announced today the filing of two bills to increase child safety at school and on the Internet. Senate Bills 6 and 9 are part of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst's Texas First child welfare package, and will join Texas' version of Jessica's Law, Senate Bill 5, in moving through the legislative process.

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Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan (second from left) poses with Dallas Morning News' Texan of the Year Roy Velez and his family. Velez was honored by the Senate for his courage and compassion in coping with the death of two sons in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Senate Bill 6, by Zaffirini, is aimed at increasing penalties for individuals who sexually solicit or transmit explicit messages or images to minors. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said the Internet is one of the most dangerous places for Texas children in the modern era. We've got a real problem on the Internet today. The Internet is literally a minefield for youngsters," he said. SB 6 would allow prosecutors to seek consecutive prison sentences in child sex offense cases involving the Internet, and would create a state clearing house at the Attorney General's office to keep a general database of online sexual crimes. Zaffirini says this bill gets at the two main dangers facing children on the Internet. "It will protect our children who are online users. The statistics show we have a serious problem, not only because there are so many adults who are sending sexually explicit communiqués to children online, but also others who are soliciting them," she said. "This bill addresses both issues."

Senator Shapiro filed Senate Bill 9, which would mandate background checks for all teachers, administrators, custodians and any school personnel. Shapiro said this is necessary to give parents peace of mind. "Parents, when they send their children to school, are under the assumption that teachers and the people at the school are safe, and that their children are at a safe haven," she said. "Unfortunately, as we start looking into the backgrounds of some of the teachers and some of the people who are in the school system, we find that they are predators, and they have records that we don't know about."

The bill will also create a statewide background check database to keep districts across the state in touch to prevent teachers or other staff with sexual offenses on their records from moving from school to school.

Also today, Senator Jane Nelson of Lewisville joined family violence advocates in calling for more money for services for the victims of domestic violence. According to Laura Wolf of the Texas Council on Family Violence last year, 81,000 Texans used family violence services, and these services saved the lives of many of those people. Nelson said she filed two bills to help combat domestic violence: SB 44, which would mandate more state oversight of victim's shelters, and SB 45, which would make assaults involving strangulation a felony offense. Nelson said she was proud to join with advocates to increase awareness of domestic violence in Texas. "Slowly but surely we have been bringing this issue out of the shadows," she said.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 26, at 1:30 p.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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