Newsroom

Sen. Ellis’ statement on open carry amendment

(Austin, TX) // Tonight, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) voted for an amendment offered by Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) to HB 910, the open carry bill. Senator Ellis offers the following statement:

“I have a long history of opposing open carry legislation and a strong record of supporting sensible reforms to reduce gun violence and keep firearms out of the hands of criminals,” said Senator Ellis. “But if open carry is going to become law, law enforcement shouldn’t be able to circumvent constitutional rights and detain someone solely because they are open carrying in compliance with the law.”

Senator Ellis continued: “Our state has an unfortunate record on racial profiling and selective enforcement when it comes to detaining people of color. I supported Senator Huffines’ amendment because minority Texans, like all Texans, should be able to exercise their rights, whatever those rights might be, without fear of selective infringement and detention without any reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity.”

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Senate committee approves exoneration commission bill

(Austin, TX) // Today, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs approved HB 48 on a 6 to 0 vote. The bill, which creates a exoneration review commission to study wrongful convictions, now goes to the full Senate for consideration. HB 48 is authored by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) and sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston).

“Texas has had more total exonerations and DNA exonerations than any other state in the country,” said Senator Ellis. “With this continuous flow of proven exonerations, we know with absolute certainty that tragic mistakes are occurring in our criminal justice system, and it is our duty and obligation to fix them. The conviction of the innocent not only ruins innocent lives, but it also harms public safety by allowing guilty perpetrators to remain free and destroying public trust in our justice system.”

Senator Ellis continued: “I want to commend Rep. McClendon for her hard work and perseverance in working to develop bipartisan support for a bipartisan concept. I look forward to working with my fellow Senators to push her bill to the finish line.”

The committee substitute to HB 48 creates the Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission to bring together trusted criminal justice experts to review proven wrongful convictions, identify the main causes of those convictions, and recommend more reliable practices to improve public safety and prevent such tragedies from reoccurring in the future.

The Commission would review convictions of innocent people in much the same way as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates major accidents. When a major airplane, train, or space shuttle accident occurs, an in-depth investigation begins within hours to identify the causes and possible remedies to ensure it is not repeated. The Commission would provide similar safeguards to ensure justice is served in our state.

Yesterday, Senator Ellis met with a group of exonerees who were at the Capitol advocating for criminal justice reforms, including HB 48. The gentlemen each served over 20 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

20150521-IMG_3102
20150521-IMG_3115

###

 

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Driver Responsibility Program reform passes Texas Senate

(Austin, TX) // Today, the Texas Senate passed SB 93, legislation to reform and improve the broken Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). The bill now moves to the House for consideration. Specifically, the bill will prevent drivers licenses from being suspended as a result of failure to pay a DRP surcharge. Since 2003, over 2 million licenses have been suspended, and currently more than 1.2 million licenses are suspended due to the program.

“It’s time to give hardworking Texas families relief from this broken double jeopardy program that is doing more harm than good,” said Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), author of SB 93. “I hope that by ending the threat of license suspension we can dismantle this program piece by piece and return some sanity to how we fund trauma care in our state.”

Senator Ellis continued: “The Senate’s vote today is a testament to the fact that the end of the DRP as we know it is near. The program has harmed millions of families, preventing hardworking Texans from driving to work or taking their children to school.”

“I am glad to see the legislature recognizing when things do not work out the way they were intended and having a willingness to rectify it,” said Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood). “This is a good first step in that direction.”

“The Driver Responsibility Program has created more problems than it has solved,” said Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas). “Instead of helping people or increasing safety, punitive DRP fees are a heavy burden on low and middle income Texans. It’s past time to eliminate this hurtful and unnecessary program, which is a modern day debtor’s prison.”

Former Representative Mike Krusee, who passed the bill that created the DRP, recently spoke out in a letter to Senator Ellis and called for full repeal of the program. In part, the letter reads:

 I believe the numerous problems with the DRP and its detrimental impact on millions of Texans fair outweigh any benefits. It is past time to repeal it. The program was never intended to cause as much harm as it has to Texas families.

The DRP was created in 2003 to help fill a budget shortfall and requires drivers convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay annual surcharges to maintain their drivers’ licenses. If a person fails to pay the surcharge, which is assessed on top of court fines and criminal penalties, it results in an automatic license suspension.

Since 2003, it’s clear that the DRP has created more problems than it has solved. The program has generated far less revenue than anticipated, has not improved public safety, and has increased financial hardships for low-income families. This program has created backlogs in our courts and passed on undue costs to our counties. What’s worse, the DRP has led to more uninsured and unlicensed drivers on the road.

The bill passed by the Senate today repeals language in the Transportation Code that provides for the suspension of a driver’s license for failure to pay a surcharge.

 ###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with: ,

Driver Responsibility Program reform moves out of Senate committee

(Austin, TX) // Yesterday, the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation passed SB 93 by an 8 to 0 vote, legislation to reform and improve the broken Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). Specifically, the committee substitute will prevent drivers licenses from being suspended as a result of failure to pay a DRP surcharge. Since 2003, over 2 million licenses have been suspended, and currently more than 1.2 million licenses are suspended due to the program.

“It’s time to give hardworking Texas families relief from this broken double jeopardy program that is doing more harm than good,” said Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), author of SB 93. “I want to thank all of the senators, but especially Senators Bob Hall and Don Huffines for their determination and assistance in getting the bill out of committee.”

Senator Ellis continued: “I fully recognize how late it is in session, and passing this bill will clearly be an uphill climb. But I will push to get the bill through the Senate so that we can get a record vote and create momentum moving forward.”

“I am glad to see the legislature recognizing when things do not work out the way they were intended and having a willingness to rectify it,” said Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood). “This is a good first step in that direction.”

“The Driver Responsibility Program has created more problems than it has solved,” said Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas). “Instead of helping people or increasing safety, punitive DRP fees are a heavy burden on low and middle income Texans. It’s past time to eliminate this hurtful and unnecessary program, which is a modern day debtor’s prison.”

The DRP was created in 2003 to help fill a budget shortfall and requires drivers convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay annual surcharges to maintain their drivers’ licenses. If a person fails to pay the surcharge, which is assessed on top of court fines and criminal penalties, it results in an automatic license suspension.

Since 2003, it’s clear that the DRP has created more problems than it has solved. The program has generated far less revenue than anticipated, has not improved public safety, and has increased financial hardships for low-income families. This program has created backlogs in our courts and passed on undue costs to our counties. What’s worse, the DRP has led to more uninsured and unlicensed drivers on the road.

The committee substitute passed yesterday by the Transportation Committee strikes the majority of the language in the original bill and replaces it with a repeal of Section 708.152 of the Transportation Code, which deals with license suspension for failure to pay.

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Toward fair and effective justice

Dear Friend:

Media coverage  and demonstrations stemming from tragedies around the nation have brought necessary, and far too long delayed, attention to the pressing need to fix our broken justice system.  They serve as a sobering reminder of the continuing gap between the constitutional promise of equal justice under the law and the unfortunate reality of disparate justice in too many of our communities.

84-0378D-026

The problems aren’t unique to Baltimore, Ferguson, and Staten Island. We face the same injustices – if not worse – right here at home. It is as persistent and extensive as it is disturbing, and the numbers don’t lie:

In 2012, African Americans made up only 18.9 percent of the Harris County population but comprised 65.8 percent of those from the county incarcerated in state prison for drug possession – despite the fact that we know drug use rates are virtually same across racial lines. According the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Police Department officers shot 121 civilians between 2008 and 2012, yet not a single officer was indicted.

These aren’t just statistics – these are real lives affected. We must decide whether we care enough about those lives to take action, right now, to move us forward toward a more fair, equitable, and effective justice system that ensures all people, regardless of race or income, receive equal justice under the law.

In the spirit of standing up for fair and equal justice and turning the nation’s attention toward meaningful reform, I want to use this Ellis Express to highlight efforts underway that need your help in order to advance justice reforms both here at the Capitol and at home in Houston.

Sentencing Reforms

Our criminal justice policies should effectively improve public safety, efficiently utilize taxpayer dollars, and treat all people equally and fairly. That seems basic enough. But Texas has historically been criticized for its wasteful, ineffective, and overly “tough” approach to criminal justice that has too often relied on mass incarceration first and asking questions later, and too often treated communities of color unjustly.

Despite steps forward in recent years, Texas still has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the United States, far more total people in prison than any other state in the nation, and persistent racial disparities. This is mainly due to Texas’ continued over-reliance on incarceration as the primary means of addressing many low-level offenses, particularly drug possession cases, and the unequal focus of enforcement on communities of color. Drug users, not dealers or violent offenders, accounted for almost a quarter of new prisoners in state facilities last year. Of those, African Americans in Texas were almost seven times as likely to receive a felony and be incarcerated for simple drug possession offenses – again, despite the fact that whites use and possess drugs at essentially the same rates.

Spending billions of dollars to incarcerate tens of thousands of people a year for lower level offenses might be justifiable if it was actually effective at making our communities safer. But study after study proves that incarceration is far less effective at reducing drug use or improving public safety than less expensive, less destructive, evidence-based alternatives like pre-trial and pre-arrest diversion programs.

With John Legend and Rep. Alma Allen at the launch of the #FREEAMERICA campaign

The positive news is that there is growing consensus among experts around what many of us have known to be true for years: the move towards mass incarceration and the war on drugs has been ineffective public safety policy, wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, and had a particularly unjust and disparate effect on the poor and communities of color.

There are proven, meaningful changes we can make to create more effective and just approaches to sentencing. We can start by advancing effective, smart-on-crime diversion alternatives to mass incarceration for non-violent drug possession cases. These alternatives have already proven to be successful at reducing crime and drug use in our communities. Advancing these smart-on-crime approaches will put Texas on the path to a more effective and efficient approach to justice and reduce the racial and economic disparities in our justice system.

I have fought hard for these reforms throughout my career. Just last month, I was proud to partner with John Legend and my friends at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition to launch the #FreeAmerica campaign to end mass incarceration.

Below are few of the key sentencing reforms I have proposed this legislative session:

  • Senate Bill 770 would create the Texas Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice to study the effectiveness and efficiency of our criminal justice practices, as well as the fairness and racial equality in the application of those practices. The Commission would make recommendations to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and fairness of those practices.
  • Senate Bill 82, the Substance Abuse Treatment and Crime Prevention Act, would reform sentencing practices for low-level, non-violent drug possession cases.
  • Senate Bills 851, 419, and 412 reform sentencing practices for low-level, non-violent drug possession cases and invest resources in drug prevention and diversion programs.
  • Senate Bill 1417 would reform marijuana sentencing laws.
  • Senate Bill 106, legislation by Senator John Whitmire, decriminalizes truancy in Texas, and I am proud to support his efforts as a coauthor. The bill requires the Texas Education Agency to create minimum standards and establish best practices to help students who have issues with truancy instead of making the act a criminal offense.
  • Senate Bill 93 would repeal the problematic Driver Responsibility Program, which assesses annual administrative surcharges against persons convicted of certain traffic offenses above and beyond the criminal penalties and court fines, often resulting in license suspension for failure to pay.

There are numerous pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion alternative that can be implemented at the local level, too, many of which require no change in state law. I look forward working with local leaders this interim to advance those reforms.

asdasd

Fair and Transparent Police Practices

Most of our police officers do honorable work, and their service is to be praised and respected. But as with any profession, we must have transparency and accountability to ensure the public trust.

To advance that goal, I am fighting for the following reforms this session:

  • Senate Bill 338 would require that the prosecutors appointed to cases involving police officer misconduct be from outside the jurisdiction of the officer in order to be prevent bias, avoid conflicts of interest, and promote public trust in the fair application of justice.
  • Senate Bill 158, which I co-authored with the lead author Senator Royce West, would expand the use of police officer body cameras, complete with proper checks and balances on their operation and accessibility.
  • Senate Bill 181 would require police interrogations to be recorded.

At the local level, our law enforcement policies must ensure that our laws are enforced in all communities equally. It is essential to move toward community policing and away from “broken windows” policing and practices like “stop-and-frisk” that disproportionately target the poor and communities of color.

Fair Defense and Equal Representation

The promise that every person, rich or poor, stands equal before the law is at the root of the American ideals of liberty and justice. Ensuring that promise is a reality requires that all people have their rights equally protected by quality legal representation when they are accused of a crime. Unfortunately, in everyday Texas, quality of justice is too often contingent on your wealth and the attorney you can afford.

We see this played out every day across the state. Most Texas counties continue to utilize an antiquated, court appointed counsel system where a judge chooses your lawyer if you’re poor, and even decides whether an attorney gets resources to investigate a case. A judge having that level of control over a defendant’s attorney creates an inherent conflict and risks interfering with an individual’s freedom to have independent representation.

These structural impediments to providing quality counsel are compounded by the failure to invest adequate resources for indigent defense. As a result, some court-appointed attorneys handle up to 900 cases in a single year. This translates into inadequate time to visit with clients, conduct sufficient research, or do a meaningful investigation. The outcome is a fundamentally unfair system of legal representation that places innocent people at risk of being wrongfully convicted simply because they are poor. That’s not a system worthy of Texas.

Texas needs to encourage and support the creation of additional public defender systems to handle indigent defense.  Evidence proves that public defender systems are the most cost-effective way to deliver quality indigent defense services and ensure low-income Texans, at the very least, receive some semblance of equal justice. Public defenders improve the quality of representation because they are independent of the judiciary and provide an institutional infrastructure that builds accountability. Additionally, public defenders use tax dollars more efficiently than court-appointed systems because economies of scale and non-duplication of services allow them to save money.

We are making progress on this front. Harris County created a public defender in 2010, which has meaningfully improved representation, but the office still handles less than 10 percent of the indigent cases in Harris County. The Fort Bend County Commissioner’s Court is to be commended for taking an important first step just a few weeks ago for voting apply for a discretionary grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to create a dedicated public defender’s office in their county. I especially want to thank Commissioner Grady Prestage for spearheading this effort and working closely with his colleagues to ensure the promise that every person in Fort Bend County, rich or poor, stands equal before the law.

These offices need the funding and support necessary to create a more fair and equal justice system, so your support is crucial to their continued growth and success. This session I have fought to improve quality representation by advocating for adequate investment in indigent defense, creating more public defender offices, and filing Senate Bill 260 to limit the massive caseloads carried by court-appointed attorneys.

Ensuring Juries of Our Peers

Fair and equal justice requires we all be judged by juries of our peers who are representative of our community makeup and values. Our right to be judged by a jury of our peers must be protected through measures to eliminate the broken “key man” grand jury system, prevent outside influence and bias, and eliminate barriers to community participation.

This session, I am fighting for the following reforms to improve the quality and fairness of our jury system:

  • Senate Bill 769 would require counties to report racial and gender makeup of their juries, explain the reasons for any demographic disparities between the juries and the county’s population, and propose reforms to remedy those disparities.
  • Senate Bill 135, authored by Senator Whitmire, would eliminate the “key man” – or “pick-a-pal” – grand jury system in Texas and require grand jurors in most cases to be picked randomly, just as we select trial jurors.
  • Senate Bill 411 would require the release of grand jury records for police officer killings.

We also need to explore reforms to eliminate economic barriers to community participation. Many working folks simply cannot afford to take off of work to participate in jury service. We can alleviate those hardships by increasing juror compensation and promoting policies to encourage employers to offer paid leave for employees for  jury service.

Pre- Trial Incarceration Reform

Texans should not be imprisoned simply because they are poor, so it’s imperative we fix our broken bail bond system that results in far too many people who have yet to be convicted of a crime being locked in jail simply because they cannot afford  bail.  Currently, more than 60 percent of those in the Harris County jail are people awaiting trial, yet to be convicted of a crime and simply too poor to make bail.

I have proposed the following measures to reform bail bond and pre-trial release practices:

  • Senate Bill 1690 would allow a magistrate to release a defendant on a cash bond of less than the amount set in the bail hearing. The bill gives judges an alternative to a personal recognizance bond that will allow someone out of jail if they can’t pay the cost associated with a surety bond or the full cash bond amount.
  • At the local level, bail schedules and bond-setting policies should be revised to reduce the possibility that low-risk people remain in detention solely because of their inability to post bond, including the increased use of personal

Reliable and Accurate Justice

At the bare minimum, Texans deserve an accurate and reliable justice system: one with proper checks and balances and transparency to make sure all relevant facts come to light, evidence based on real science and best practices, and adequate procedural safeguards to ensure dependable verdicts.  Failing those basic principles creates the heightened risk of convicting the innocent and allowing true criminals to remain free, undermining public safety as well as the public trust in our system of justice.

Unfortunately, if we measure reliability and accuracy by verified mistakes, Texas leads the nation in the shameful category of proven wrongful convictions.  Progress has been made on the heels of these tragedies – with reforms ranging from eyewitness identification procedures to the creation of the Forensic Science Commission – but many of the leading causes of wrongful convictions remain completely unaddressed.

There are essential advances Texas needs to make to ensure we have evidence and results we can trust in our justice system. These include specific measures like better scientific standards for what we accept as evidence in our courtrooms, to broader measures like creating an innocence commission of experts to consistently review wrongful convictions, evaluate our system, and make recommendations to improve the reliability of justice.

This session I have filed the following bills to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of our justice system:

  • Senate Bill 81 (and House Bill 48 by Representative Ruth McClendon) would create an exoneration review commission to review proven wrongful convictions and recommend policy reforms to prevent such tragedies in the future.
  • Senate Bill 487 would ensure that vital DNA evidence can be tested to ensure accurate convictions. By making small fixes to the law, my bill ensures that wrongfully convicted Texans have meaningful access to advanced crime-solving technology to prove their innocence and assist law enforcement in finding the actual perpetrators.

These are just a handful of the vital reform we need to advance to create the system of justice the people of Texas deserve.  It’s our responsibility, each and every one of us, working together, to dedicate ourselves advancing the cause of equality and justice for all.

I will continue to fight, as my predecessor Barbara Jordan famously stated, to make “America as good as its promise” and push Texas toward a justice system that is more equitable, reliable, and effective.

Sincerely,

Rodney Ellis

Posted in: Ellis Email Express • Tagged with:

Bill to strengthen Texas’ DNA testing law passes legislature

(Austin, TX) // Today, the Texas legislature passed SB 487, legislation to improve access to DNA testing for wrongfully convicted Texans. The bill now heads to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk for his consideration.

“By making small fixes to the law, my bill ensures that wrongfully convicted Texans have meaningful access to advanced crime-solving technology to prove their innocence and assist law enforcement in finding the actual perpetrators,” said Senator Rodney Ellis, author of SB 487.

“Advanced DNA testing technology supports justice driven legislation such as  SB 487, that assists law enforcement in prosecuting the right perpetrators and providing innocent persons the freedoms wrongfully stripped from them,” said Representative Senfronia Thompson, sponsor of SB 487.

At a press conference on the bill earlier this session, DNA exoneree Michael Morton explained his support of the bill: “I may never have been able to prove my innocence under the current interpretation of the law,” said Morton, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife Christine in 1987. “It was only because DNA testing detected invisible cells that excluded me and matched Mark Norwood’s profile in the DNA database that I was finally exonerated and my wife’s real killer was brought to justice. The law should be clarified so that other wrongfully convicted Texans like me can prove their innocence.”

SB 487 clarifies that a judge has the authority to grant DNA testing in situations where the judge determines there is a “reasonable likelihood” that credible, exculpatory biological evidence exists and meets the numerous standards for access to testing under Chapter 64 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. SB 487 will enable a judge to allow testing on key evidence that is not readily visible but is likely to contain probative biological material – which may include tape, ligature, fingernail scrapings and other items.

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Sen. Ellis votes against SB 2065, anti-gay marriage bill

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) voted against SB 2065 on the Senate floor and offers the following quote:

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” said Senator Ellis. “In the more than 30 states where same-sex couples can legally marry, no clergy or house of worship has ever been compelled to perform a same-sex wedding. The fact is that there are many faith traditions that embrace gay and lesbian couples and joyfully celebrate these marriages. Nobody is reliant on forcing a reluctant pastor in order to get married.”

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Sen. Ellis and Rep. Reynolds celebrate steps toward a Fort Bend public defender office

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) released the following statements in response to yesterday’s vote by the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court to approve the county’s proposal for a public defender office:

“I applaud the Fort Bend County Commissioner’s Court for voting to expand their public defender office,” said Sen. Ellis. “I especially want to thank Commissioner Grady Prestage for spearheading this effort and working closely with his colleagues to ensure the promise that every person in Fort Bend County, rich or poor, stands equal before the law.”

Sen. Ellis continued: “Public defender offices represent a win-win situation for a county: a win for taxpayers because it is the most cost-effective way to deliver quality indigent defense services, and a win for our criminal justice system because it ensures low-income Texans, at the very least, receive some semblance of equal justice.”

“I would like to thank Judge Hebert, Commissioner Morrison, Commissioner Prestage, Commissioner Meyers, and Commissioner Patterson for their leadership on this initiative,” said Rep. Reynolds. “They have worked closely with numerous interested parties to come to a solution that benefits everyone. Senator Rodney Ellis also deserves many thanks and congratulations for his instrumental role in guiding this project to fruition. It is great to see Fort Bend County taking a definite stance in support of fair access to legal representation. The creation of a Fort Bend County Public Defender’s office is a remarkably positive development for our community.”

The Commissioner’s Court voted to apply for a discretionary grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to create a dedicated public defender’s office.  In the proposed plan, Fort Bend County will be able to access $1.8 million in state funds over a four-year period to set up a public defender’s office that would handle 20 percent of the current cases referred to attorneys.

What Fort Bend County Does Now

Fort Bend County, other than for certain mental health cases, continues to utilize an antiquated, court appointed counsel system where a judge chooses your lawyer if you’re poor and even decides whether an attorney gets resources to investigate a case. A judge having that level of control over a defendant’s attorney creates an inherent conflict and risks interfering with an individual’s freedom to have independent representation.

Problems With The Court-Appointed Lawyer System

Lack of Independence

If the judge can hire and fire attorneys, that level of influence can seriously interfere with an attorney’s freedom to fully advocate for their client and defend their client’s rights. Even a judge with the best intentions is going to affect the independence of counsel under these circumstances and may unintentionally exert pressure that is detrimental to the best interests of justice.

Lack of Accountability  

A quality public defense delivery system includes supervision and regular review of defense counsel for quality and efficiency, according to established standards. Judges do not have the time and resources to supervise/monitor the performance of appointed attorneys, so they are not the appropriate people to review the work of defense lawyers – both because judges lack access to information about defense lawyers’ out-of-courtroom advocacy efforts and because, in court, judges are supposed to act as neutral umpires when presiding over a criminal case.

Why This Matters to Texans

Court-appointed indigent defense systems are ripe for injustice, more likely to waste taxpayer dollars, and jeopardizing public safety by placing innocent people at risk of being wrongfully convicted.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

The current, broken system is paid for by taxpayers. Study after study prove that public defender systems are the most cost effective way to deliver quality legal services. Wasting taxpayer money on inadequate legal representation implicates and impacts all of us.

Effective Public Safety

Our justice system should ensure the innocent are protected and the guilty are brought to justice. When we provide inadequate legal representation and risk convicting the innocent, we also risk leaving actual perpetrators free to commit more crimes. The end result is ineffective law enforcement that jeopardizes public safety.

Respect for the Criminal Justice System

When citizens do not trust the accuracy of the criminal justice system, faith in the rule of law is undermined.

Fair and Equal Justice and the Quality of our Democracy

The promise of adequate representation – the promise that every person, rich or poor, stands equal before the law – is at the fundamental core of the American democratic ideals of liberty and justice. When we undermine such a core principle of democracy, we erode the integrity and public faith in our justice system.

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Sen. Ellis explains vote against SB 2065

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) voted against SB 2065 in the Senate Committee on State Affairs and offers the following quote:

“I believe in protecting religious freedom in people’s private activities, but it’s wrong to allow a special class of people to blatantly discriminate against other Texas citizens simply because of who they love” said Senator Ellis. “It’s morally indefensible, and it’s bad for Texas.”

“Texas already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1999 and signed by Governor George W. Bush. I voted for it, as did every other member of the Senate that session. For more than 15 years this law has worked to protect religious freedom for all Texans. It includes carefully crafted provisions that ensure that individuals can’t use religion as a weapon to discriminate and harm others or to ignore laws that everyone else must obey. Current protections are sufficient, and I think SB 2065 as currently crafted is a solution in search of a problem.”

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with:

Sen. Ellis reacts to Fort Bend ISD suspending its truancy program

(Austin, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) responded to the news that Fort Bend ISD would be suspending and reviewing its truancy program:

“I commend Superintendent Dupre and Fort Bend ISD for suspending their truancy program while the district conducts a review of its truancy procedures,” said Senator Ellis. “My hope is that this review will bring the much-needed reforms to Fort Bend’s truancy system, help to get students back into school, and reduce the school-to-prison pipeline. Sticking children in jail and forcing them to pay thousands of dollars in fines – which they often can’t afford in the first place – is the wrong approach and counterproductive to the students’ success.”

On March 18, Senator Ellis sent a letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Department of Justice begin an investigation into racial disparities concerning the application of Texas’ truancy laws. On March 31, the DOJ announced it would begin an investigation into Texas truancy laws.

According to a recent Texas Appleseed study, in 2013, Texas prosecuted 115,000 truancy cases, more than twice the number of all other states combined. Statewide, 80 percent of students sent to court for truancy are low income, and African Americans, Latino, and special education students are disproportionately impacted.

###

Posted in: Press Releases • Tagged with: