Hate Crimes Legislation Continues to Percolate
AUSTIN - Several senators today made personal privileges on the floor of the Senate about the continuing discussion surrounding controversial hate crimes legislation.
A hate crimes bill deadlocked the Senate for nine hours last session as members tried to work out a last-minute agreement.
More than a dozen members of the House of Representatives were in the Senate today as a show of support of efforts to have hate crimes legislation brought up for debate by the upper chamber.
"Last night, a church in my district was swastikaed and racial slurs were spray painted on the church," said Dallas Sen. Royce West. "It's time, members of the Senate, to do something about this issue," West said. "We must find a way to deal with this issue, not tomorrow, but today."
Hate crimes legislation, the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 87, was approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committeein February. The bill's author, Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, has not been able to get the votes necessary to bring the bill up for debate by the full Senate.
The Criminal Justice Committee yesterday approved a House hate crimes bill, House Bill (HB) 587, authored by Senfronia Thompson of Houston.
"I call on the governor of the state of Texas. I call on the leadership of this chamber. I call on the leadership of the Republican Caucus and the Democratic Caucus to find a way, this session, to deal with this issue," West said.
Waco Sen. David Sibley, the leader of the Senate Republican Caucus, denounced the defacement of the Dallas church and said that those who oppose the proposed hate crimes legislation would work for compromise legislation.
"It's a difficult issue. This is not something that's a slamdunk. This is not saying, 'Every child in the state of Texas ought to have a right to an education.' We all agree with that. That's easy," Sibley said.
Ellis said he had toned down his rhetoric on his hate crimes legislation, but, "at some point, you get sick and tired of being sick and tired."
"I try to be as dispassionate on issues as much as I can," Ellis said. "But this is one that's ripe. It's ripe for action. And some of the anger that I feel is because that body across the hall (the House) has passed this bill now two times with bipartisan support."
Ellis' rhetoric has heated up in recent days. Yesterday, he was critical of what he characterized as Gov. Rick Perry's attempts to influence the debate.
"If I offended somebody by my rhetoric a bit yesterday, tough. I meant it," Ellis said. "I've done as much as I can to try to be respectful of the governor, but I don't appreciate him stepping in the middle of this issue."
Plano Sen. Florence Shapiro, who has proposed alternate bill language that Ellis has rejected, told Ellis she did not like the recent tone of the rhetoric.
"I was a victim of a hate crime in 1992," Shapiro said, referring to an incident in which her campaign signs were spray painted with swastikas. "It was a very, very difficult time for me, for my family -- not only for my parents, who are Holocaust survivors, but for my children."
Shapiro said she would continue to work with Ellis to try to come to a compromise on the legislation.
Also in today's session, the Senate voted to approve CSSB 85, a measure authored by Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., that would give juries the sentencing option of life without parole in capital cases. Under current Texas law, a life sentence means a person convicted of a capital offense becomes eligible for parole after 40 years. Life with the possibility of parole and the death penalty are currently the only sentencing options in capital cases.
The Senate also approved CSSB 1541, which would establish a disposal facility for nuclear waste from Texas and other states. The bill, which was authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, was debated at length by the Senate yesterday.
One of the more controversial provisions of the bill is an amendment added in committee that opens the facility to more nuclear waste from around the country, including from the Department of Energy.
In other Senate news, May 11 is the deadline for Senate committees to take action on bills and joint resolutions.
The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Friday.