Bid for Law Curbing Hate Crimes Falls Short in Texas Legislature

Article excerpt

DALLAS - An attempt by Democrats to pass a hate-crimes law that specifically included homosexual victims has failed in the Texas Legislature, saving Gov. George W. Bush from dealing with the issue.

The bill, named for James Byrd Jr., the black man dragged to death behind a pickup truck in East Texas, would have toughened the state's hate crimes law by increasing the criminal penalties. It also would have specifically included homosexuals for the first time.

State Sen. Ken Armbrister, a Democrat from Victoria, said the Senate Criminal Justice Committee might reconsider the bill, but it was generally conceded that the outcome would remain the same.

Mr. Bush, a leading Republican presidential prospect, was urged to get behind the bill when he met privately with Mr. Byrd's daughter, Francis Renee Mullins. He told her he would seriously consider the issue if it passed the Senate.

The following day, President Clinton met with Mrs. Mullins during a fund-raiser in Austin and pledged his support.

As worded in the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, a hate crime would be one motivated by the victim's race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexual preference.

"If we could stop hate with this bill, I'd vote for it. If we could stop prejudice with this bill, I'd vote for it. But that's not what this bill does," said Sen. Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound, one of the four GOP senators who voted against the bill.

Both Mrs. Nelson and Republican Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano said their chief concern about the bill was that it "divided society into subgroups."

"We're dividing people when we should be uniting them," said Mrs. Shapiro.

Many Republicans, including Mr. Bush, said they saw no need for new hate-crimes legislation because the state passed a similar bill in 1993, calling for tougher penalties for crimes motivated by hate or bias. …