From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
June 19, 1997
Contact: Rick Svataro, (512) 463-0113

Legislation to Protect Churches from Arson, Insurance Redlining Signed into Law

AUSTIN, Tx. -- New measures to protect churches from arson and insurance redlining were signed into law today by Governor George W. Bush at the State Capitol in Austin. Senate Bills 78 and 79 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) increase the penalty for burning a church or place of worship to a first degree felony and prohibit insurance redlining of churches because of a proven case of arson.

"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. "An attack on a place of worship is an attack on all people of faith and the fundamental religious values which unite us as Americans."

More than 318 churches across America have been victimized by arson since 1995. In Texas, the Commission on Fire Protection has identified 63 suspicious church fires since 1995. Senate Bill 78 increases the penalty for church arson from a second degree felony to a first degree felony. Under the new law, those convicted of burning a place of worship would face five to 99 years in prison and as much as a $10,000 fine.

"I think it sends a clear message to criminals that we are not going to allow them to indiscriminately burn down our places of worship," said McClendon.

The two lawmakers said that other states such as Florida, North Carolina and California already consider the burning of a place of worship with a higher degree of severity. The Texas' arson law will be the strongest in the nation.

"I am proud that Texas will have the strongest law in the nation to protect our houses of worship and punish the criminals who seek to destroy them," said Ellis. "I think ninety-nine years in jail is ample time for a church arsonist to find religion."

Senate Bill 79 will protect churches from insurance redlining by prohibiting insurance companies from cancelling or not renewing the policies of churches that have been victimized by a proven case of arson. Ellis and McClendon

said that several churches across the nation have recently lost their insurance coverage after being struck by arson. In 1995, three black churches in Tennessee were denied renewal of their insurance policies after they were victimized by arson.

"Congregations that have been the victims of church burnings must not become victims again because they are unable to rebuild for lack of insurance," Ellis said.

For information on how to prevent church arson, call the Texas Commission on Fire Protection at 512/918-7100.