The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act allows for increased sentences for crimes committed because of the victim's real or perceived "race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference". Over 1,800 potential hate crimes have been reported to the Department of Public Safety since the Texas hate crimes statute went into effect in 2001. Fewer than a dozen have been prosecuted as hate crimes according to Equality Texas.
HB 172 will be heard in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Veasey filed this bill last session as well (HB 616) and the committee approved it with 8 members for, 1 against and two absent. Unfortunately only two of last session's members are back this session: Chairman Pete Gallego and Wayne Christian. While Gallego is supportive of this bill Christian opposed the creation of a Hate Crimes Statute in the first place so his opposition to anything that might make the Hate Crime statute more effective is virtually guaranteed.
The committee has 7 new members this session: Vice-Chair Hartnett, Aliseda, Burkett, Carter, Davis, Rodriguez and Zedler. Hartnett and Davis both supported the creation of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act. They both have excellent records of supporting the queer community and it's very likely that both of them will support HB 172. Rodriquez wasn't a member of the House when the Hate Crimes Statute was created, but he has an excellent voting record and will very likely support Veasey's idea. Zedler is an old-school conservative, the kind of person who thinks that non-discrimination policies must in some way work to his disadvantage. I would be shocked if he voted for this bill.
The other three new members, Aliseda, Burkett and Carter, are freshmen, swept in with the teabagger hysteria of the fall. Burkett is a teabagger's teabagger, she was one of only 15 house members to vote against Joe Straus for Speaker (the Teabaggers had encouraged house members to elect a "good Christian" speaker, as opposed to Straus, who is Jewish). The chance of Burkett (or Christian or Zedler, who also voted against Straus) supporting HB 172 is very slim. Aliseda and Carter's lack of experience (or stunning display of antisemitism) makes their vote hard to predict.
In a November 14th Fort Worth Star Telegram article Veasey was not optimistic about HB 172's chances:
"I'm going to try it, but quite frankly it's not going anywhere," Veasey said. "A lot of these folks that got elected were elected on opposition to the president and probably feel that being for anything pro-civil rights would hurt them in their political careers."
If you would like to contact the members of the Criminal Jurisprudence committee and ask for their support the contact information is below.
Pete Gallego -Chair
(512) 236-9408 Fax
Will Hartnett - Vice Chair
(512) 463-7827 Fax
(512) 463-0559 FAX
(512) 463-9295 Fax
(512) 463-1121 Fax
(512) 463-5896 Fax
(512) 463-2297 Fax
(512) 463-0314 Fax
(512) 463-0364 Fax