From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
April 15, 1997
Contact: Rick Svataro, (512) 463-0113

Senator Ellis Wins Preliminary Approval of Hate Crimes Legislation.

AUSTIN, Tx. -- State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today won approval by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for legislation (Senate Bill 80) that would strengthen the existing Texas hate crimes law by providing police, prosecutors, and judges with the clear language that they need to enforce the law and eradicate hate crimes in Texas.

"One of the reasons for this legislation is that dedicated people in law enforcement are hesitant to report, prosecute or sentence under our current hate crimes statute, not because of their unwillingness to fight hate crimes, but because they want clearer statutory authority," said Ellis. "This legislation provides crystal clear language."

According to Ellis, with the passage of SB 80, Texas will adopt virtually identical language to the Wisconsin hate crimes statute whose constitutionality was upheld by a 1993 unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Furthermore, an amicus brief in support of the Wisconsin language was filed and endorsed by the attorneys general of all fifty states in the nation, including our own Attorney General Dan Morales.

Ellis said that the passage of the bill should eliminate any doubts about the constitutionality of Texas' hate crimes statute, and remove any hesitation that law enforcement personnel might have had in the past about reporting, prosecuting and sentencing under this statute.

"We must not forget the personal tragedy that hate crimes leave in their wake," Ellis said. "We have already paid too high a price not to do all that we can to stop the violence and suffering caused by crimes of hatred and prejudice."

Hate crimes legislation passed by Ellis in 1993 increased penalties for a convicted criminal if -- during the punishment phase of a trial -- the prosecutor proved that the crime was motivated by bias or prejudice. During the 1995 legislative session, legislation sponsored by Senator Ellis to clarify the scope of the legislation failed to pass the Texas House of Representatives by two votes.

"We must send a clear message that hate mongering is unacceptable to the people of Texas," Ellis said. "I hope Texans will unite behind this effort to develop effective tools to prosecute criminals who act out of hatred, prejudice and bias. The legacy of pain and loss caused by hate crimes demands that we do no less."