Senator Ellis follows in the footsteps of human and civil rights leaders such as Mickey Leland and Barbara Jordan, two giants he feels lucky to call personal mentors. It has been one of Senator Ellis’ priorities to seek, develop, and implement progressive policy that recognizes the right of every human being to live a quality life.
Fighting Hate Crimes
In one of his hardest fought battles, Senator Ellis successfully passed the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act in 2001, to clarify and strengthen the state’s hate crimes statute by defining a hate crime as one that has been proven in court to have been motivated by “the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry” of the victim. The Act bears the name of James Byrd, Jr., an African American who was targeted and murdered in one of the most brutal hate crimes of the post-Civil Rights Era. In 2009, President Barack Obama passed a federal hate crimes law also bearing Mr. Byrd’s name.
Equal Marriage Rights
Senator Ellis vocally opposed the law and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Texas. Ellis believes these divisive efforts serve no purpose other than stoke the fires of discrimination, and do nothing to actually strengthen marriage.
Increasing access to the ballot box
Senator Ellis passed the Motor Voter program in 1993 to allow citizens to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses. To further increase participation in the democratic process, Senator Ellis implemented the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 in Texas in 1995, bringing Texas up to Federal standards by requiring government agencies to afford citizens a chance to register to vote each time they seek state services through government agencies. He has also been a champion for securing the right to vote, leading the fight against “Voter ID” and other legislation which would weaken the franchise and create new barriers to voting for minorities, students and elderly.
Protecting freedom of the press
Senator Ellis passed the Free Flow of Information Act in 2009 to protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources. The law strikes the delicate balance between preserving the public’s right to know the truth from an independent press and the state’s ability to uphold justice.
Preserving the past
In 2009 Senator Ellis passed legislation creating The Holocaust and Genocide Commission, a volunteer commission that serves as a conduit of information to public and private schools, and organizations for information on the Holocaust and acts of genocide. In 2007, Senator Ellis passed the Stop the Genocide Act, requiring state pension funds to divest from companies doing business in Sudan. Over the previous four years, the Sudanese government and their allied organizations had killed more than 400,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million in Sudan’s Darfur region. The U.N. had declared the crisis the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world today.”
Reforming the legal system
Senator Ellis also passed the Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) Act, which protects Texans’ right to free speech and curtails frivolous abuse of our court system by creating a way for people who have been subjected to SLAPP lawsuits to protect themselves from having to give in to a plaintiff who has greater resources or other power rather than spend thousands of dollars defending themselves.
Recognizing the Disabled
The Senator also passed legislation establishing October as Persons with Disabilities History and Awareness Month providing Texans a positive and respectful image about the struggles and achievements of disabled Americans. This legislation will provide an opportunity for education, awareness, and discussion about disability in our society beyond that of environmental barriers.