From the Austin Advocate, Texas, Summer Edition, comes the news that the Texas Senate refused to pass a bill that would protect the homeless from violence and death. The proposed legislation called for vilification of a person simply because they were homeless to be classified as a hate crime, but the Senate didn’t agree the homeless have the same rights as other minority and marginalised groups.
The Austin Advocate is a member of the INSP and is sold by street people in Austin Texas.
Texas Hate Crimes Bill to Protect the Homeless Falls One Vote Short in Senate
The National Coalition for the Homeless just issued its 6th report on Hate Crimes citing 142 violent crimes directed at people experiencing homelessness. The number of violent acts is up 65% since last year with 20 of these attacks resulting in death. On February 20th Eddie Berniece Johnson in the House of Representatives from Dallas TX introduced a National Hate Crimes Bill.
Texas has also had its share of the heinous crimes. “Homeless man beaten by teens”-El Paso, “Homeless woman beaten with tire iron”-San Antonio, “Up to Eight suspects Set Sleeping Man on Fire”-Corpus Christi, Homeless man, Curtis Ray Wilson, beaten to death”-Austin. In Texas the list goes on and on. Clearly, Texas has had enough! This legislative session, Texas legislators Elliot Naishtat in the Texas House and Senator Royce West in the Senate introduced our own versions of Hate Crimes legislation.
We brought in a national expert and House the Homeless, brought 25 people experiencing homelessness to a TX Senate Hearing. We presented the 2006 National Hate crimes report, the Texas Hate Crimes Report and a DVD of “60 Minutes” called Bum Hunting produced by the late great Ed Bradley just before he died. Supporting our testimony was Ken Martin with the TX Homeless Network, the NAACP, the Austin Area Homeless Task Force, lots of folks from across TX and of course House the Homeless. When all was said and done, the room was silent. We held our collective Breath. We walked out of there with a 5-0 vote to advance our cause! Yahoo! We had just passed out of one of the toughest Senate committees-Criminal Justice and Jurisprudence…unbelievable!
From the Senate Hearing Committee we headed to the floor of the Senate. We would need 21 votes to get an open discussion and vote needed to send the bill to the House. We were all very hopeful and Senator West and his expert support staff (Lauren Doss was our contact), started to get Senators to sign on their support. Republicans and Democrats both signed on. We got 18 sign-ons before things started to slow down. We contacted everyone we knew and encouraged them to support the TX Hate Crimes bill that would enhance a punishment if it could be proven that the perpetrator had committed a crime against a person for no reason other than because the victim was homeless. We repeatedly wrote to our friends and homeless service providers seeking their help. I contacted our wonderful friend and supporter Sara Hickman (musician). I even contacted The TX Baptist Commission and Senator Kirk Watson. We got 20 votes. One more vote to go! I encouraged all the homeless folks to call a pool of ten Senators in hopes that ONE of them would support us. We operated under the premise that we are homeless (and at-large) and therefore we are the constituents of all TX Legislators.
While we had to get 21 votes to have the bill read and voted on in the Senate, we really only need a simple majority of the 31 member Senate to pass it. We felt confident that we could then move the bill in the Texas House. But every remaining Senator also new that the last vote was the single most important one. Out of the remaining Senators, we could not get one to support us. They were all Republicans and they may have viewed this as a Democratic initiative. I do not know the exact reason for not supporting us. We tried to convey this as a human issue NOT a political one.
In any event, the bill stopped there but not before we used every ounce of energy that we had. We will go again in the next Legislature two years from now, and we will work on the national level to pass a National hate Crimes Bill. Thank you all for your tremendous support!!
In Unity There is Strength
Richard R. Troxell