From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
April 27, 1999
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

House Takes Stand Against Hate, Passes James Byrd, Jr. Act
Texas Poll Shows Widespread Support for New Hate Crimes Law

(AUSTIN)// The Texas House of Representatives today took a stand against hate and for basic human rights with the passage of HB 934, the James Byrd, Jr. Act. HB 938, offered by Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), passed the full House 83-61, and will now go on to the Senate for debate. Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) is the sponsor of companion legislation, SB 275, and will carry HB 938 in the Senate.

"The brutal slaying of James Byrd, Jr was a wake up call to all Texans to work together to prevent crimes of hate," Senator Ellis. "The House today answered the call, sending a clear signal that Texas will not tolerate hate."

Texas' current hate crimes statute, authored by Senator Ellis in 1993, has been criticized as too vague to enforce. The James Byrd, Jr. Act will strengthen current law by defining a hate crime as one motivated by the victim's race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation, bringing Texas law in line with language already approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, provide aid to small counties prosecuting hate murders, assign a prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office as a hate crimes director, require greater training by law enforcement officers, and provide civil penalties for victims of hate crimes.

A new Texas Poll demonstrated that an overwhelming percentage of Texans support a strong hate crimes law that protects all Texans, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. According to the poll, 81 percent of Texans support including race, 80 percent support including gender, 78 percent support including religion and 76 percent support including sexual orientation in a strong hate crimes law.

"Texans understand that crimes motivated by hate have a more corrosive effect on our society," said Ellis. "Act of such viciousness and brutality -- like those in Jasper -- do not just happen. They are the product of years of subtler acts of hatred that often go unpunished. If we want to stop the cycle of violence before it begins, we must have a law that sends an early, clear signal that hatred of others will not be tolerated."

Senator Ellis rejected claims that the James Byrd, Jr. Act creates special rights for groups of Texans.

"The James Byrd, Jr. Act is not about special rights, it is about basic rights. The unalienable right to live and worship as you choose, without harassment or threat of violence. It sends an unmistakable signal that if you choose to violate Texans basic rights, simply because of their race, religion or sexual orientation, you are going to be severely punished."

"Representative Thompson deserves the thanks of all Texans," said Senator Ellis. "Now we must continue the fight to ensure that the James Byrd, Jr. Act becomes law."