From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 13, 1999
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Statement of Senator Rodney Ellis

Members, I want to thank you for your careful consideration of this bill. For me at least, the testimony and the evidence were hard to hear and digest. As leaders in a civilized society, we cannot hear of brutality, ugliness and hate in our midst without all feeling degraded by it. I also want to thank the chair of the committee for his patience and respect in allowing this bill before the committee.

I am very disappointed in this committee's vote. I believe it represents a failure on our part and a missed opportunity. First, we have failed to send a message against hate in Texas. The tragic and despicable killing of James Byrd, Jr. last summer focused national and worldwide attention upon Texas. It summoned up ghosts of our former reputation as a backwards, racist state. I am so proud of the modern, progressive Texas that I live in that I felt confident we could banish that specter once and for all with strong leadership from elected officials.

Second, the Senate failed to do what it has done before. Twice this decade, the Senate has passed a hate crimes bill. Both times, the bill contained language very close to what we tried to pass today, including a specific reference to sexual orientation. Members of this committee who voted the James Byrd Act down today voted for those bills. Members of this committee who voted the James Byrd Act down today sponsored those bills.

Third, we as Senators let down our colleagues in the House and, more importantly, the people of Texas. The House two weeks ago made history by passing the James Byrd Act and, in so doing, honored the traditions of that institution. The people of Texas indicated overwhelming support for this legislation, including an astonishing 76 percent who supported specific protections based on sexual preference.

We have all heard the arguments against the hate crimes bill. That the James Byrd Act will not stop murders, even though it will punish the abuse, assaults, and vandalism that often precurse the taking of a life. That the James Byrd Act is unconstitutional, even though the United States Supreme Court has upheld virtually identical language and so resolved that issue. That "all crimes are hate crimes" -- even though we know there is a difference between "Dick Loves Jane" on a railroad trestle and a swastika on a synagogue. That a hate crimes bill we create special categories, even though the Byrd Act will punish African-Americans who attack a white person just the same as whites who attack an Hispanic.

In fact, I believe that no one can honestly argue that there is a legitimate intellectual case against a hate crimes bill. That was demonstrated in the House debate a few weeks ago and in the committee hearing last week. The truth is, the hate crimes bill is a victim of the worst kind of politics: a politics of fear, of divisiveness, of hatred.

This issue will not go away. As a legislative matter, it will affect the remainder of the legislative session. As a political issue, it will affect the careers of elected officials throughout our state. As a moral issue, we will continue to grapple with senseless violence, unchecked hatred, and unacceptable behavior as long as we fail to stand up to them.