NEWS RELEASE
From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
March 3, 1997
Contact: Rick Svataro, (512) 463-0113

SENATOR ELLIS WINS SENATE APPROVAL OF CHURCH BURNING LAW

HOUSTON, Tx. -- In the wake of a tragic trend of church burnings in Texas and across the nation, State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today won Senate approval for a legislative proposal (Senate Bill 78) that would increase the penalty for burning a place of worship to a first degree felony. Ellis said the measure, which passed unanimously out of the Senate, is part of a comprehensive package of legislation that would help protect churches and punish criminals who seek to destroy them.

"The tragic trend of church burnings in Texas and across the nation challenges us to do more to protect our sacred houses of worship," said Ellis. "These despicable acts must serve as a wake-up call for all Texans to work to prevent these crimes and punish the cowards who commit them."

Between January 1, 1995 and December 17, 1996, 318 churches in America were victimized by arson. In Texas, the Commission on Fire Protection identified 63 suspicious church fires since 1995.

Other church safety legislation introduced by Ellis would prohibit insurance companies from canceling policies held by churches that are victimized by arson and strengthen the Texas hate crimes law. Ellis said he will also promote education and prevention efforts to help keep Texas churches safe.

"An attack on a church or place of worship is an attack on all people of faith and the fundamental religious values which unite us as Americans," Ellis said. "To strike at the people of one faith is to strike at people of all faiths."

Highlights of Rodney Ellis' Church Safety Legislative Package:

"We must send a clear message that the destruction of a house of worship is unacceptable to the people of Texas," Ellis said. "I hope all Texans will unite behind these efforts to make our churches safer and prosecute the criminals who seek to destroy them. The legacy of suffering and loss caused by church burnings demands that we do no less."

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