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May 5, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - The hate crimes bill, passed in the Texas House last week, is beginning its move through the Senate. Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus announced today that judging by the members' past voting records on the issue, they have the support to pass the legislation, the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 938.

Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos says crimes motivated by hate deserve special treatment. "If you harm someone because of their race, their religion, their gender, their sexual preference, or their beliefs, you just don't break the law, you tear the fabric of our society," said Barrientos.

Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, the Senate sponsor, authored the current statute but says it is too vague. With the end of the session in sight, the group called for action now, and questioned why the bill has not been brought to a vote. "We think this is one of the most important pieces of legislation remaining in the Texas Senate for action this session." said Ellis. The brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas last summer inspired the legislation. CSHB 938 will be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee tomorrow.

Misuse of the so-called 'date rape' drug, Rohipinol, to commit a sexual assault will have greater penalties under legislation passed today. Dallas Senator David Cain sponsored Senate Bill (SB)1100. He says the pill, which is illegal in the United States, is as dangerous as any weapon. "It's the drug's ability to steal memory that makes it so dangerous, and I believe, makes its use every bit as violent as holding a gun or a knife to a throat during a rape. Having no memory of a brutal and cowardly assault adds a whole new level of danger to a despicable crime," said Cain.

The Senate also passed the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 266, which allows certain private schools to participate in University Interscholastic League activities. Schools must be single sex and follow the same rules as public schools to participate. Currently, only seven schools, which are located in Dallas, Houston, El Paso and San Antonio, qualify. Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister sponsored CSSB 266.

Senators Florence Shapiro of Plano and Royce West of Dallas will serve on Attorney General John Cornyn's task force on school violence prevention. Cornyn announced the formation of the task force today in response to the murders at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow May 6, at 10:00 a.m.

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