From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
July 9, 1998
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Senator Rodney Ellis Calls for Tougher, Clearer Hate Crimes Law

HOUSTON (07/09/98) -- At a hate crimes hearing tonight in Houston, State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) urged members of the Texas Legislature to join him and pass a tougher, clearer hate crimes law.

At the Joint Hearing on Hate Crimes, co-hosted with Houston City Councilman Jew Don Boney, Senator Ellis, key area lawmakers, and expert witnesses discussed ways to improve Texas' hate crimes law to help law enforcement send an earlier, more effective signal to criminals that acts of hate will not be tolerated. State Representatives Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), and Debra Danburg (D-Houston), and Houston City Councilwoman Annise Parker also participated in the hearing.

The hearing was a community response to the brutal slaying last month of James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper. It featured testimony from key leaders representing various ethnic and religious communities, key political advocacy groups, and law enforcement, but the testimony of Louvon Harris and Melinda Washington, James Byrd, Jr.'s sisters, had the greatest impact.

"The testimony of the Byrd family put a human face on the devastating toll hate crimes can have on our families and our community," said Senator Ellis. "Nothing can erase the Byrd family's pain. We can, however, work together to pass a stronger, more effective hate crimes law that sends hatemongers a clear and early signal that violence and abuse will be harshly punished."

Senator Ellis is the author of Texas' current hate crimes statute. Since its passage in 1993, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and leading legal experts have warned that the law is too vague and, therefore, constitutionally questionable. In 1995 and 1997, Ellis led efforts to clarify and strengthen the law failed to pass the legislature.

In 1997, 331 hate crimes were reported by the Texas Department of Public Safety, with more than thirty occurring in Houston. Since 1992, the first year of reporting, over 2,000 hate crimes have been documented. Nationwide, the Federal Bureau of Investigating has reported over 6,000. In Congress, conservative Senator Arlen Specter (R- PA) and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) are leading an effort to pass a stronger federal statute against hate crimes. The measure would extend existing hate crimes law to cover offenses based on gender, disability and sexual orientation.

"I am encouraged that social conservatives are finally getting the message that we need a stronger law to deter all hate crimes, whether the crime is motivated by race, religion, or sexual orientation. The simple fact is that certain people walk around with a target on their back, simply because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. To protect them, we need a stronger hate crimes law."