‘Colton's Law' Kept $3M But Not Child Protections Measures

The Texas Department of Public Safety has received nearly $3 million to look for children in immediate danger even though state troopers won't actually be doing so, frustrating relatives of a slain toddler who teamed with lawmakers to create "Colton's Law."

The bill signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is named after 2-year-old Colton Turner, who was found buried last year in a shallow grave in Austin. The boy had been missing on and off for a year, and both his mother and her boyfriend have been charged with injury to a child.

Lawmakers who sponsored Colton's Law say the safety measures will save lives, but the bill is a far cry from the sweeping reforms originally proposed, the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday.

The law was substantially diluted during the legislative process, where it appears to have faced quiet opposition from DPS, according to the newspaper. The bill would have required DPS to search for children in immediate danger, but that provision was stripped from the bill late in the session. Still, DPS was given $2.7 million for work it now doesn't have to do.

DPS officials "unequivocally reject" allegations that their troopers fought against the bill in any way, agency spokeswoman Summer Blackwell said.

"It would be completely false for anyone to insinuate that the department is not committed to enhancing efforts to protect children in Texas," she said.

State budget officials say they neglected to remove funding for the bill and are now talking with DPS about what to do with the money.

Emails obtained by the newspaper show that after the original bill passed a House committee, the state's director of child welfare investigations told a co-worker that "DPS is not happy." Williamson County Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell said he saw two Texas Rangers outside the hearing room pull aside several law enforcement officials who had supported the bill.

"It was my understanding that they were saying the legislation was bad and it would be very difficult to do and it wasn't good for DPS," Gravell said.

DPS officials forcefully insist that they never lobbied anyone. Texas law bars state employees from lobbying for or against legislation in their official capacity.

The legislators behind Colton's Law, Sen. Charles Schwertner and Rep. Marsha Farney, say no one ever pressured them to dilute the bill and that it evolved into something stronger and more enforceable.

Among the new mandates are additional training for DPS troopers and state caseworkers on how to use a database of missing children.

Colton's family members say the law doesn't go as far as it should.

"What infuriates me is why we gave up what we did because there was no reason for it," said Raquel Helfrich, the boy's great-aunt.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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