From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
January 26, 1999
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

James Byrd, Jr. Act Filed by Senator Ellis
Legislation is a comprehensive approach to punishing and preventing hate crimes in Texas

(AUSTIN (01/26/99) -- State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) announced at a press conference today the filing of SB 275, the James Byrd, Jr. Act, comprehensive legislation to punish and prevent hate crimes in Texas. The legislation is named for James Byrd, Jr., an African American who was brutally murdered in Jasper, in June 1998.

Ellis was joined by key legislative leaders from both the House and Senate, as well key political advocacy groups to announce the legislation.

"The brutal slaying of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper last year shows more must be done to punish and prevent hate crimes in Texas," said Senator Ellis. "Acts of such brutality do not just happen. They are the product of years of subtler acts of hatred that are often ignored until they explode. If we want to stop this cycle of violence before it begins, we must have a law that sends a clear, sudden signal that crimes of hate will not be tolerated. The James Byrd, Jr. Act will do just that."

The James Byrd, Jr. Act has drawn widespread support. Senator Mario Gallegos (D-Houston), Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), Senator David Cain (D-Dallas), Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin), Senator Carlos F. Truan (D-Corpus Christi), Senator Gregory Luna (D-San Antonio), Senator Royce West (D-Dallas ), Senator Mike Moncrief (D-Fort Worth) and Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) are co-sponsoring the legislation.

The James Byrd, Jr. Act will:

Provide aid to small counties prosecuting hate murders. It will offer assistance to counties with populations under 50,000 to pay for the extraordinary hate crimes prosecution costs.

Clarify the definition of a hate crime to conform Texas law with language upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Assign a prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office as a hate crimes director. The Attorney General's Office currently has a prosecutor's assistance division that provides aid to counties requesting criminal expertise. The proposal would not divert any of the AG's resources and would ensure continuity and specialization in hate crimes prosecution.

Require law enforcement officers under the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) to receive training in investigating and documenting offenses committed because of bias or prejudice. This training is necessary due to the need to gather evidence in hate crimes and address disparities in reporting across the state. For instance, in 1997 the Houston Police Department reported 30 incidences of hate crime, Dallas PD reported 40, Austin PD reported 52, and San Antonio reported 4 incidences.

Provide civil penalties for victims of hate crimes. Victims often spend a great deal of money and time attending multiple trials and parole hearings for the perpetrators of these crimes and approximately 25 percent of all hate crimes recorded are property offenses. Several states have passed laws which allow civil penalties for hate crimes. The language in this bill assists in defining hate crimes to help victims recuperate some of the costs associated with the hate crimes committed against them.

Senator Ellis is the author of Texas' current hate crimes statute, which increased penalties by one level of offense if a crime was proven to be "motivated by bias or prejudice." Passed in 1993, the law has not been widely used because prosecutors and legal experts have warned that the statute is too vague to be enforced properly, and may not hold up to a constitutional challenge. Senator Ellis has worked since 1993 to clarify and strengthen the law.

"Prosecutors need a tool that will punish hate, not one that causes confusion," said Ellis. "We need to clarify and strengthen Texas' hate crimes law and we need to do it now." Hate Crime Bias Motivation in Texas

Between 1992 and 1997, nearly 2,300 incidents have been reported in Texas. In 1997, the Department of Public Safety documented 331 hate crimes in Texas, with over 360 reported victims. Thirty hate crimes were reported here in Houston. In 1997, the FBI reported over 6,000 hate crimes in the U.S.

Hate crimes are not merely a black/white issue, it is a community issue. Whites are victims of hate crimes; Hispanics are victims of hate crimes; Asians, Jews, Arabs. Homosexuals, Lesbians, and the disabled are victims of hate crimes. We can all be victims.

In the last report, there were 360 Hate Crimes (some have multiple crimes during same incident);

Racial: 64.4 percent of total

Anti-black -- 167 incidents, 46.4 percent of total
Anti-white -- 46 incidents, 12.8 percent of total
Anti-Asian -- 12 incidents, 3.3 percent of total

Sexual Orientation: 17.8 percent of total

Anti-male homosexual -- 41 incidents, 11.4 percent of total
Anti-female homosexual -- 8 incidents, 2.2 percent of total
Anti-homosexual (male & female) -- 15 incidents, 4.2 percent of total

Religious: 9.2 percent of total

Anti-Jewish -- 21 incidents, 5.8 percent of total
Anti-Protestant -- 7 incidents, 1.9 percent of total
Anti-Islam -- 1 incident, 0.3 percent of total

Ethnicity: 8.0 percent of total

Anti-Hispanic -- 22 incidents, 6.1 percent of total
Anti-Arab -- 3 incidents, 0.8 percent of total
Anti-other Ethnic/National origin -- 4 incidents, 1.1 percent of total
(Source: DPS Crime in Texas, 1997)