Tags: Texas | Senate | OKs | 'Hate | Crimes' | Bill

Texas Senate OKs 'Hate Crimes' Bill

Monday, 07 May 2001 12:00 AM

A similar bill died two years ago in a Senate committee because supporters said then-Gov. George W. Bush would not support it; Bush said all crimes were hate crimes. The failure of the measure during Bush's watch became an issue during his campaign for the White House last year.

Opponents say "hate crimes" laws violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, make crimes against some favored groups more severe than crimes against others, and can even create thought crimes.

On Monday, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, was able to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to bring the measure to the floor for debate and then successfully beat back an amendment that would have stripped specific "hate victim" language from the bill.

The bill passed 20-10 in the Republican-controlled, 31-member Senate, with several prominent GOP members voting with Democrats. The bill passed the House two weeks ago, but it must return there for approval of minor Senate amendments.

If the House approves the Senate changes, the measure will go to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has taken a watch-and-wait position.

"The governor has said he will make a decision when and if the final legislation reaches his desk," said Gene Acuna, a spokesman for Perry, said late Monday.

If the House should reject the Senate amendments, the measure would go to a conference committee, but an aide to Ellis said Monday that appeared unlikely now.

"This is truly an historic day for the state of Texas," said Ellis. "The Texas Senate has sent a message that our state is not a safe haven for hate. This legislation will help protect all Texans from anyone who decides to act on their hate and prejudice."

The bill was named after James Byrd Jr., the black man who was dragged to death near Jasper, Texas, in 1998 after he was chained to the back of a pickup truck by three white men. All three men were convicted of capital murder. Two were sentenced to death, and a third to life in prison.

Supporters of "hate crimes" laws have never made it clear what harsher penalty they would want for Byrd's killers; many liberals oppose the death penalty.

The present Texas hate crimes law was criticized as too vague and without the specificity required by the constitution in defining a hate crime.

The Byrd act would change the law by ensuring that the "hate crime" definition follows closely the language approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1993 Wisconsin vs. Mitchell case. That case defined a hate crime as one that has been proven in court to have been motivated by "the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry" of the victim.

The law would also raise the penalty for a crime by one level if a jury concluded during trial that the crime was motivated by hate. For example, a person convicted of painting a swastika on a synagogue would be eligible for a maximum punishment of a $4,000 fine and one year in jail instead of a fine of $2,000 and 180 days in jail.

Currently, 43 states have hate crimes laws, including 21 that include sexual orientation in their definition.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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A similar bill died two years ago in a Senate committee because supporters said then-Gov. George W. Bush would not support it; Bush said all crimes were hate crimes. The failure of the measure during Bush's watch became an issue during his campaign for the White House last...
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2001-00-07
Monday, 07 May 2001 12:00 AM
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