AUSTIN - More time, more talk. An additional day of talk still did not produce a hate crimes bill on which senators could agree. The Senate stood 'at ease' Friday for more than nine hours while Senate members from both parties participated in negotiations over the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 938, the pending hate crimes legislation.
Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, the bill's sponsor, commented on the day's negotiations, "A couple of times today I think we came very close to having language we could all live with, would make us feel good; also give us an opportunity to pay homage to Mr. Byrd's legacy and to their family. We couldn't quite get there." The hate crimes bill was named after James Byrd Jr, the victim of a racially motivated murder in Jasper, Texas.
CSHB 938 would have enhanced the penalties for crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexual preference. Supporters say that the hate crimes statute on the books is too vague. The proposal debated today includes categories such as ethnicity and sexual preference which supporters say they need in order for the bill to be of any use. Opponents say the Legislature should not decide who should be protected under the bill.
Democratic Senators say all they want is to debate and vote on the legislation on the Senate floor. Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini says they are not giving up hope yet. "Do you know of any rule of the Texas Senate that cannot be suspended? Where there is a will there is a way and if the leadership truly wants to pursue this bill I ensure that we can suspend the rules and pursue the bill. It is not necessarily dead," said Zaffirini.
Friday is the last day for committees to recommend bills to be considered by the full Senate. Most bills are considered dead if they are not reported out of committee by midnight.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 17, at 10:00 a.m.