Funding added to analyse data of sexual assaults in Texas

While legislation aimed at addressing sexual harassment in the workplace died late last month, another bill aimed at measuring sexual assault data found support from a Driftwood-area lawmaker.

With the help of State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) successfully added an amendment to House Bill (HB) 1 to add funding for the examination and investigation of reported sexual assault offenses in the state. HB 1 is the budget for the state for the next two years.

There is no comprehensive data for the State of Texas on how reported sexual assaults will result in prosecution, according to the representatives. The duo worked together on the amendment that requires the State Auditor to conduct an audit on the disposition of sexual assault investigations. 

The audit requires analysis of the number of sexual assault reports that were either prosecuted as different criminal offenses, closed or classified as inactive without being forwarded to the local county or district attorney, not prosecuted or dismissed after an indictment had been filed. 

The audit will examine a five-year period from calendar years 2014-2018 and include data from city and county jurisdictions across the state, according to Zwiener’s office. 

“We know that sexual assaults are difficult cases to investigate and prosecute,” Zwiener said. “Understanding the data will allow us to identify jurisdictions that are doing a good job and learn from them, and it will allow us to identify jurisdictions that need additional resources to be effective at pursuing sexual assault cases.” 

However, the clock ran out on legislation meant to address and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Senate Bill 46, authored by State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), which was carried in the house by Zwiener, would have required the Texas Workforce Commission to accept sexual harassment claims from employees of workplaces of all sizes. 

Currently, the law only allows complaints against workplaces with 15 or more employees. Proponents of the bill argue this leaves hundreds of thousands of workers with no protection. 

“Employees of smaller organizations should have the same workplace protections as employees of large ones, but right now that is not the case,” Zwiener said. “We have made substantial progress this session on legislation to make sure every Texan has access to a fair and transparent process.” 

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) moved the bill through the Senate Affairs Committee while four House members signed on as joint authors to the house companion. Fifty-six members signed on as coauthors to the house companion. 

However, the bill was placed near the end of the House calendar; time ran out at midnight on May 21, as sine die was called, killing the remaining bills including SB 46 which was six bills down the calendar.

“There’s no other way to say it: The legislature let down the people of Texas,” Zwiener said. “In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we owed survivors of workplace sexual harassment action, and we didn’t prioritize it highly enough to get it done.”

Zwiener said she commended the bipartisan effort and is hopeful a sexual harassment protection bill will be passed next session in 2021.  

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