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Senators propose “maximum sentencing” for Texas lawmakers who provide alcohol to underage staff

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Senators propose “maximum sentencing” for Texas lawmakers who provide alcohol to underage staff” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A Republican state senator has filed a bill to crack down on lawmakers giving alcohol to minors after one of his GOP colleagues in the other chamber was accused of having sex with an intern and drinking alcohol with her.

State Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, says his bill would ensure that any lawmaker found guilty of giving alcohol to underage staffers and interns is “given the maximum sentencing if convicted.”

“For a class A misdemeanor that is a $4,000 fine & one year in jail,” Springer said in a tweet Tuesday.

Providing alcohol to a minor is already a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by a fine of up to $4,000, a year in jail or both. Springer’s proposal, Senate Bill 2610, would amend the Penal Code to apply to any “public servant” who “directly provides an alcoholic beverage to a legislative employee or intern who is younger than 21 years of age.”

The Texas Tribune reported earlier this month that state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, was the subject of an internal House complaint that he had an “inappropriate relationship” with an intern who was under 21. It has since been revealed that they are also alleged to have had “sexual relations” at his Austin apartment in late March. The Tribune also reported, according to someone who works in the Capitol with direct knowledge of the incident, that Slaton drank alcohol with the intern.

Springer filed the bill Tuesday, with less than a month and a half left in the session. It would need the support of four-fifths of senators to be accepted this late, but Springer and his Democratic joint author, Sen. José Menéndez of San Antonio, are optimistic that there is broad support for the proposal.

Springer and Menéndez acknowledged the bill is a response to the Slaton matter.

In an interview, Springer said Slaton deserves due process and noted the bill would not apply to Slaton if he was found guilty because it is not retroactive. But Springer said it is important to make a point, at a minimum.

“We’re just going to say, look, crystal clear, it’s going to be the maximum” penalty, Springer said in an interview. “Hopefully that gets the message out. This is unacceptable.”

Menéndez said he was “disgusted” by the Slaton situation.

“It’s been something we should’ve been thinking about for a long time, but never have we had such an example of how and why we need this,” Menéndez said of the legislation.

Menéndez noted that the Senate has shown it “can pass bills in one day,” and Springer was similarly hopeful that the proposal could advance swiftly.

“It can be in the House before May,” Springer said.

Springer previously waded into the Slaton scandal by floating an amendment to a separate bill that he said would have increased the “penalty for Legislators that groom someone below 21.” However, he did not introduce it, saying the proposal was not germane to the bill.

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