Hate Crimes Act Approved in Texas

Tuesday, February 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — One day, Stella Byrd hopes she can tell her great-granddaughter that the girl's grandfather did not die in vain.

She says she'll be able to do that if Texas lawmakers pass the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, named in memory of her son who was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in 1998.

``I'll have something good to explain with what happened with this bill and maybe that will help her grow stronger,'' Byrd said.

The state's House Judicial Affairs Committee approved the bill Monday after hearing testimony from Byrd and others. A Senate committee has approved a similar bill.

The bill would toughen penalties for crimes motivated by race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, age, gender or national origin. It also would require annual reports of hate crime statistics by Texas counties.

Three white supremacists were convicted of murdering James Byrd Jr., a black man from Jasper, Texas. Two are awaiting execution and the third is serving life in prison.

The House panel's two Republicans voted against the bill Monday.

``I oppose anything that does not treat everybody equally,'' Rep. Robert Talton said.

The full House approved a similar hate crime bill in 1999, but the legislation died in a Senate committee. Many lawmakers voted against the bill because they opposed including homosexuals as a protected group.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat, is sponsoring this year's hate crime bill. She said she will delay consideration by the full House until the full Senate takes action on its version.

Texas passed a hate crime bill in 1993, increasing penalties if a crime was proven to be ``motivated by bias and prejudice.'' That measure has been criticized as vague and virtually unenforceable.

Detractors of the latest bill say it punishes people for their thoughts and protects only certain classes of people.

``Hating all people is just as bad as hating a group,'' said Marc Levin, vice chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas.

Thompson argued that several groups are already singled out for special protection under Texas law.

``We have enhanced penalties for assaults on police officers, legislators, oil wells, pigs, chickens and cows,'' she said. ``Isn't it time we offer equal protection to people who are attacked because of their skin color, their religion or their sexual orientation?''


On the Net:

Hate crime resources: http://www.ncjrs.org/hate—crimes/hate—crimes.html