Intern Finds Her Calling in Texas Legislature

O'Brien and Rep. Todd Hunter
O’Brien and Rep. Todd Hunter

As an undergraduate and graduate student at the College of Criminal Justice, Shelby O’Brien has spent a year as an intern with Texas Rep. Todd Hunter of House District 32, the coastal half of Nueces County and part of Port Aransas. She served constituents, set schedules and learned all she could about human trafficking and the Texas Legislature.
O’Brien found her calling in her sophomore year, after accompanying a friend to a video about human sex trafficking. The documentary shocked and upset her, and she vowed to use her career to stop the international and domestic crime.

“I had never heard about human trafficking before, and it tore me up,” said O’Brien. “I was crying and so upset. I had an amazing childhood, and I got to play sports while these children were being raped repeatedly.”

During her senior year at Sam Houston State University, O’Brien signed up for an internship with State Rep. Hunter, who has co-sponsored legislation in Texas on human trafficking. Rep. Hunter served on the Judicial and Civil Jurisprudence Committee at that time, and he immersed O’Brien in a world of criminal justice issues, including the legislative issues over human trafficking. After learning about the growing human trafficking trends in the coastal community, she shadowed the representative at meetings all throughout the district with individuals and agencies fighting the problem.

Rep. Hunter has worked tirelessly at the issue, as well as other hot topics in the field, such as windstorm insurance reform and building a better water infrastructure. Rep. Hunter stated, "Human trafficking is an issue to be handled in the State of Texas,” he said.”We need to bring awareness and attention to this issue and pass Texas laws to resolve and end it in our great state."

O’Brien saw firsthand the amount of necessary preparation to create potential laws and legislative action that will have the ability to make a difference in these important topics.
“I definitely believe people’s opinions do matter, and their votes count,” said O’Brien. “So educate yourself and go out and vote. Talk to your representative’s office and get information. If there is something you want to do, go out and do it.”

O’Brien met with the legislator and staff during her first day of the internship.
O’Brien met with the legislator and staff during her first day of the internship.

Throughout her final semester as a criminal justice major, O’Brien assisted the legislator in addressing constituent concerns and attending meetings with key leaders in the field. Along the way, she learned about the legislative process, made valuable contacts in the field, and expanded her knowledge about human trafficking. “I believe this internship got me started in what I want to do,” said O’Brien.

As a graduate student in the Master of Science in Homeland Security Program, O’Brien was asked to continue her internship with Rep. Hunter in his Austin Office for the 84th Legislative Session. O'Brien was assigned to be his Scheduler. She controls his busy calendar, as well as her coworker's schedules. Rep. Hunter was re-appointed as the Chairman of the Calendars Committee, a critical legislative post in the Texas Legislature. “Nothing gets on the House floor for a vote unless it comes through this committee and receives a majority vote to advance on,” said O’Brien.

Rep. Hunter also serves as the Vice Chair for the Urban Affairs Committee and sits on the Criminal Jurisprudence, General Investigating & Ethics, and Redistricting committees. The legislative session lasts for 140 days in odd numbered years. “So we are all running and gunning to help make Texas better with new and/or improved legislation,” said O’Brien. “It's amazing!"

O’Brien has dedicated herself to working for the public.

“I work for our constituents, not for myself or my own ideals,” said O’Brien. “It’s all about what the state and our area needs. I like seeing how everything plays out in the Legislature. It is not a simple process; it is a huge process and it makes me appreciate the process we have. I get to see the reasoning for people's arguments on why they are for and against issues and how the other representatives have to weigh that information.”

Member of The Texas State University System