Texas House could give police more tools to fight online predators

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Police say online predators hold the advantage in talking to our Texas children online. In 2013, a court struck down a law saying that sexual conversations were free speech – even if it’s between an adult and a minor.
A central Texas lawmaker wants to give the advantage back to police.

Police in Texas see the problem, predators stalking and talking to children online.

“That’s really what we’re seeking to go after, that behavior. The enticement of this child himself,” said Cedar Park Police Chief Sean Mannix when he spoke with KXAN earlier this year.

But from Cedar Park and Austin police say; they can’t go after predators like they want to.

“It is considered first amendment speech to discuss things of a sexual nature with a child online,” Detective Joel Pridgeon told KXAN.

A victim’s family reached out to Cedar Park Republican Tony Dale to help.

“I was shocked to learn that what this man was doing was not a crime,” said Rep. Dale.

Right now it is illegal to send a graphic picture or arrange a meeting, but an adult talking to a child in a sexual way is legal.  He wants to change that and make sexual conversations to be against the law as well as give police the ability to do undercover sting operations.

“In 2013, criminal court of appeals overturned the law saying that it was overly broad and un-constitutional and so this law tries to remedy the unconstitutional portions and makes sure we can still go after these people,” said Rep. Dale.

His bill passed out of committee and is expected on the House floor early this week.

Arrest numbers show that the court ruling from 2013 has had a big impact on arrests. The Texas Attorney General’s Office says they arrested 19 people for online solicitation in 2012. In 2013, the numbers went even higher; there were 28 arrests for online solicitation.Last year, there were zero arrests.

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