James Byrd, Sr., (l) and Stella Byrd (seated) were at the Capitol on Friday when Governor Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Act. The law was named in honor of their son, who was dragged to death behind a pickup in a racially motivated killing in 1998. The James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Act would increase the penalties for crimes motivated by hate, prejudice or bias. The Byrds are joined by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, the author of the bill, and State Rep. Steve Wolens of Dallas. Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis sponsored the bill, which the Senate passed Monday.
Hate Crimes Bill Into Law
AUSTIN - With the mother and father of James Byrd, Jr., looking on, Governor Rick Perry today signed the hate crimes bill passed by the Senate on Monday.
The legislation has been named the James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Act, in memory of the African American man who in 1998 was dragged to death behind a pickup in a racially motivated killing.
"In the end, we're all Texans, and we must be united as we walk together into the future," Perry said. "That's why today I have signed House Bill (HB) 587 into law. Texas has always been a tough-on-crime state. With my signature today, Texas now has stronger criminal penalties against crime motivated by hate."
HB 587 will increase penalties for hate crimes motivated by prejudice or bias. The bill would also provide assistance to local jurisdictions for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.
The act will raise the penalty by one level for a crime determined to be motivated by hate. Under current law, spray painting a church with a swastika carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. HB 587, which takes effect September 1, will increase the maximum punishment to 1 year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
"This new law sends the signal to would-be criminals that if you attack someone because of their religion or race or gender, you face stiffer penalties, more time behind bars," Perry said. "If you attack a church or a synagogue or a mosque because of hate in your heart, we have a tough new law to deal with you."
HB 587 was authored by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston and sponsored in the Senate by Rodney Ellis of Houston, who authored the companion bill. Dallas Sen. Royce West and Dallas State Rep. Steve Wolens also attended the signing ceremony.
"This bill needed Governor Rick Perry's name on it, and I'm very grateful for that. This bill needed and deserved Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff's vote, and I appreciate that. And this bill needed and deserved the leadership of the speaker of the House to get it through that body," Ellis said. "But more than anything else -- take it from someone who started down this road in 1991 -- this bill needed a tough, strong black woman named Senfronia Thompson to put the heat on to get this bill passed."
After signing the bill, Perry presented the pen he used to the parents of James Byrd, Jr.
"This is the best Mother's Day gift that I've ever received, something that I will cherish and can remember all my life," said Mrs. James Byrd, Sr. "At least I have something good to remember from his death. It's been hard. It's been real hard to live through it."
This morning, the members of the Senate met as the Committee of the Whole to discuss several proposed plans for the redrawing of their district lines.
The Texas Legislature has the task of redrawing Senate, House, State Board of Education and U.S. Congressional district boundaries every ten years, following the U.S. Census.
Three proposals are under consideration by the Senate, including the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 499. The bill was authored by Senate Redistricting Committee Chair Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio. The Redistricting Committee held numerous hearings at the Capitol and around the state in 2000 and this year to gather public input.
The Senate is also considering two redistricting proposals submitted by Waco Sen. David Sibley. Most of the discussion today centered on Senate districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Although the Senate has a long tradition of working across party lines, redistricting is one of the most partisan issues in the Legislature. Several members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have criticized Sibley's proposals and endorsed the committee plan authored by Wentworth.
"The Wentworth plan keeps communities of interest together, allows minority impact districts to elect the candidates of their choice, meets the Gingles test requirements and, most importantly, takes into account the wishes of not only the citizens of the state, who told us how they want to be represented, but also of the members (who) make up the body we all serve in together," said Houston Sen. Mario Gallegos, who co-chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee during the interim between the 1999 and 2001 sessions.
A Gingles analysis is a test based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to determine if there is a large enough collection of minorities to be protected under the Voting Rights Act.
"Senator Sibley, as much as I respect your leadership and contributions to this body, on this issue I feel strongly that your plans fail to meet the requirements embodied by the Wentworth plan," Gallegos said. "Any redistricting plan brought before the Senate should not be one that was created (in a) vacuum."
Sibley responded that he created his proposals after consultation and consideration of all guidelines.
"I don't believe the plans that I put up, either 1 or 2, was created in a vacuum. There were many hours put into that," Sibley said. "We had the best consultant in the United States come in and talk to us about Gingles analysis. I asked for a Gingles analysis on all the plans I did, that we submitted."
"We submitted these things in compliance of the Voting Rights Act, and that was a compelling state interest," Sibley said. "I point out that the Republican Caucus adopted a resolution that said that obeying the Voting Rights Act ... was a compelling state interest. I've seen nothing like that from the other side. This is something that we feel very strong about and we obeyed it to the letter of the law and the intent of the law."
Discussion of redistricting proposals will continue next week, with CSSB 499 coming up for consideration by the full Senate as early as Monday.
Following the meeting of the Committee of the Whole, the Senate recessed to allow committees as much time as possible to hear bills. Today is the deadline for Senate committees to take action on all bills.
The Senate will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday.