Texas passes historic hate crimes legislation

The Texas House of Representatives recently passed a bill 83 to 61, including the support of 9 Republicans, that would enhance penalties for hate motivated violence directed against a person because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. In addition to the House vote, a new poll shows that the vast majority of Texas residents support hate crimes legislation.

"Reason and principle triumphed in the Texas legislature today," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "Texas lawmakers took a giant step towards combating hate violence against all residents of the state."

A new Scripps Howard poll for the Dallas Morning News revealed that 72 percent of Texans support hate crimes legislation. According to the newspaper, the poll said that the public supports the inclusion of all groups currently included in the legislation: 81 percent for race; 80 percent for women; 78 percent for religious groups; and 76 percent for gay people.

If the hate crimes bill passes the Senate, where it has been in committee, it will come before Bush who can either veto it or sign it into law.

"We hope the state Senate and Governor Bush will follow the lead of the House and the people of Texas and pass hate crimes legislation," said Birch. At aWashington press conference last month, family members of two hate crimes victims announced their support for federal and state hate crimes legislation. Both Judy Shepard, mother of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, and Darrell Verrett, nephew of Jasper, Texas resident James Byrd Jr., urged Bush to pass the Texas legislation.

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, in 1997 -- the most recent year for available statistics -- 360 hate crimes were reported in Texas. The Department of Public Safety reported that 167 crimes were directed against African-Americans; 64 against gays and lesbians; 22 against Hispanics; and 21 against Jews.

The effort to pass hate crimes legislation is led by Dianne Hardy Garcia, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Texas, Chair, Judicial Affairs Committee.

"The incredible leadership of Dianne Hardy Garcia and Representative Senfronia Thompson has made it possible for the House to take this great stride forward," said Birch. "This is a textbook example of how effective engagement in the political process through lobbying and education can have a significant societal impact. Today, millions of Texans are one step closer to receiving protection from hate violence."

Only 21 states have hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation and eight states, including Texas, have no hate crimes laws. Nationally, since 1981, hate crimes have nearly doubled. In 1997-- the FBI's most recent reporting period -- race-related hate crimes were by far the most common, representing nearly 60 percent of all cases. Hate crimes based on religion represented 15 percent of all cases. And hate crimes against gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans increased by 8 percent -- or about 14 percent of all hate crimes reported.

The Scripps Howard poll of 1,003 adults was conducted by telephone, March 30-April 17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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