Press Releases

Senator Ellis responds to Supreme Court striking down HB 2

(Houston, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down HB 2, which enacted unconstitutional limits on Texas women’s access to safe abortion access:

“Today marks a win for Texans, but the fight does not end today,” said Senator Ellis. “Legislative opponents of reproductive freedom want to make it virtually impossible for Texas women to seek safe, legal health care without having to face the political consequences of trying to ban all abortions. HB 2 was a cynical, destructive but – gladly – uneffective strategy.”

Ellis continued: “With the Court striking down HB 2, this represents first step in dismantling medically unnecessary laws aimed at making it harder for people to exercise their rights. All women deserve the respect and dignity to make their own health care decisions without bringing Big Government into what should be a very personal and private matter between a woman, her doctor, and her faith.”

“Finally, I want to give immense credit to Senator Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster against a version of HB 2 brought national attention to Texas’ attempts to pass unconstitutional limitations on a woman’s right and ability to make decisions about their health, family, and future. I still have your back, Wendy!”

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Senator Ellis reacts to Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. UT

(Houston, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Fisher v. UT case:

“I am extremely pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that we cannot afford to roll back the clock on a half century of progress,” said Senator Ellis. “This ruling ensures that the well-established use of affirmative action to ensure diversity on campuses can be maintained, while at the same time guaranteeing that laws providing equal opportunity for all will not be tossed aside en masse.”

Ellis continued: “Late last year, I organized 52 other members of the Texas Legislature to sign an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas’ holistic, individualized admissions process. The brief reflected the members’ ‘obligation to be aware of demographics so that we can ensure, as we must, that visibly open pathways to leadership and opportunity exist for all Texas citizens.’ I am very pleased that a majority of the Court agreed with our analysis.”

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Sen. Ellis statement on Orlando tragedy

(Houston, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement on the mass shooting in Orlando:

“I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who were impacted by today’s senseless violence in Orlando. More than ever, it is clear that hate can kill. All of us have a responsibility to join together in a unified response against hatred directed at any group – whether it’s because of what you look like, where you were born, or who you love.”

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Sen. Ellis reacts to Supreme Court agreeing to hear Duane Buck’s appeal

(Houston, TX) // Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Duane Buck’s appeal of his death penalty sentence handed down in 1997. Mr. Buck was condemned to death after his own trial attorneys introduced testimony and a report from a psychologist stating that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black.

Senator Ellis offers the following response:

“I am encouraged to see the U.S. Supreme Court take up Duane Buck’s case,” said Senator Ellis. “The people of Texas deserve a justice system based on the core principles of equal justice under the law that is free from racial prejudice and discrimination – particularly when it involves the ultimate punishment.”

Ellis continued: “There is no doubt that racist ‘expert’ testimony was involved in sentencing Buck to death. I hope the Supreme Court will correct this egregious and indefensible error and grant a new sentencing hearing free of racial bias. That said, Harris County can fix this problem now by simply agreeing to a new sentencing hearing.”

On May 9, Senator Ellis joined with 31 other Texas legislators and sent a letter urging Harris County to agree to a sentencing hearing for Buck. That letter can be found here.

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Sen. Ellis responds to Harris County Commissioner Radack

(Houston, TX) // On Tuesday, Commissioner Steve Radack said during a public session of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court that Senator Rodney Ellis should “shut up” about criminal justice reform. Click here and scroll to the 30 second mark of the Executive Session.

 Today, Senator Ellis offers the following response:

“In an outburst more in the style of Donald Trump rather than the more staid Commissioner’s Court, Commissioner Radack called me out by name and told me to ‘shut up’ about criminal justice reforms in our community,” said Senator Ellis. “As long as I have the privilege of public service, I’m not going to shut up.”

Ellis continued: “I’m not going to shut up about our broken criminal justice system and people dying in jail. I’m not going to shut up about a bail system that keeps people in a cage just because they’re poor. And I’m not going to shut up about the fact that the attorney you can afford too often determines the quality of justice you receive.”

“This isn’t an argument about statistics –  it’s an argument about whether or not Harris County continues to needlessly destroy lives, jeopardize our communities, and waste taxpayer dollars with its broken justice system. I’m going to speak up for all people and especially the most vulnerable in our society, just as I’ve always done. And I will not be bullied by any Commissioner, regardless of where my public service takes me.”

“I challenge Commissioner Radack to sit down for a public debate about the criminal justice reforms needed in our community.”

 

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Sen. Ellis reacts to lawsuit against Harris County’s broken criminal justice system

(Houston, TX) // Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) releases the following statement regarding the lawsuit brought against Harris County due to its broken criminal justice system:

“Harris County’s overreliance on the inefficient and ineffective use of mass incarceration as a means of dealing with low-level and non-violent offenses continues to result in some of the highest jailing and incarceration rates in the U.S. and the world. It’s an approach that wastes countless taxpayer dollars, has been ineffective at making our communities safer, and has a particularly devastating effect on communities of color and the poor.
 
The County’s continued failure to follow the law and principles of basic fairness when it comes to pre-trial bond and bail practices has translated into more than 70% of the jail population consisting of people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime. A vast majority of those people are stuck in jail solely because they are poor, not because they are threat to public safety. We’ve created two separate systems of justice: one for the rich and one for the poor. A system that keeps the Sandra Blands of the world, arrested for minor offenses, locked in cages with their lives at risk, and lets the Robert Dursts, arrested for murder, walk free. It’s a violation of our basic constitutional legal principles and our moral principles of justice.
 
It doesn’t have to be this way. Someone’s danger to the community should determine bail, not their wealth. The county can start fixing the this broken bail system and advancing a fair, effective, and efficient justice system today by simply following pre-trial services recommendations, requiring risk assessments, and utilizing proven alternatives to incarceration for low-risk arrestees like personal bonds, electronic monitoring, or simple check-ins. The county must also use more PR bonds, cease using a bail schedule, comply with Texas law, and assign counsel at magistration.

It’s unfortunate the County has failed to act on its own, despite repeated warnings and attempts from advocates and elected officials to work with them. I stand with the plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit and hope to be County Commissioner next January so that I can help take action to fix our broken justice system.

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Houston leaders speak out on school finance decision and treating all Texas students with dignity

(Houston, TX) // Today, Houston leaders held a press conference at Sen. Rodney Ellis’ office to discuss the Texas Supreme Court’s school finance decision and the state’s response to the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance to prevent discrimination against transgender students.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued its long-awaited school finance decision, ruling that Texas’ school finance system was constitutional despite it being “undeniably imperfect with immense room for improvement,” as the decision stated. Also on Friday, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance to schools on how to ensure transgender students are not subject to discrimination. That led to threats that Texas will walk away from more than $10 billion in federal education funding.

Below please find quotes for use by your publication. Photos from the press conference are available for download here.

Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston): “At a time when the Supreme Court admits that Texas’ school finance system is barely scraping by constitutionally, we can’t afford to walk away from $10 billion in federal funding that helps to feed and educate our state’s neediest kids. Let’s instead turn our focus to investing in our neighborhood schools and treating all of our students with the dignity they deserve.”

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Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston): “The Texas Legislature already faces the enormous challenge next session of improving our troubled school finance system during a time when state’s budget is going to be squeezed by falling oil and gas revenues. The last thing we can afford to do is forfeit $10 billion in federal funds by discriminating against innocent transgender children.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston): “The Texas Supreme Court finding that our state meets the minimum state constitutional requirements is nothing to celebrate. This is not a victory for taxpayers, this is a loss for our children. Because the Court’s opinions make it clear that there is plenty of room for improvement. It is ridiculous that we have allowed our public education system to fall so low. The Texas legislature needs to properly fund our schools ─ not just settle for meeting minimum requirements. The children of Texas deserve a system that allows them to meet the high standards we place on them.”

Rep. Coleman continued: “The President’s guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as ─ is correct. School is particularly stressful for transgendered students. Their school should be a place where they can feel safe ─ not ostracized and discriminated against. President Obama’s guidance does not put students in danger, but losing federal funding for purely political gain will hurt students in Texas.”

Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston): “LGBT students are suffering from too much bullying as it is. We do not need the Lt. Governor acting as bully in chief. He should be focusing his energies on how to bring our state up from 38th in the nation on school spending.”

Houston ISD Board of Education Trustee Anna Eastman: “To me it’s all about this quote: ‘As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.’ It’s what I said when HISD was crafting our non-discrimination policy. I hope we all can get beyond a political battle in the media and make sure we are taking care of all of our kids, so they have safe places to learn. Transgender students who are more likely to be bullied, to be homeless, to commit suicide because they are misunderstood don’t want to hurt others, they just want the same assumption of safety and comfort most of us already have.”

Philip Fraissinet, partner with Thompson & Horton LLP: “Although the decision from the Texas Supreme Court last week may have been a technical legal victory for the state, it certainly was not a victory for the children, families, and taxpayers of Texas. Although the Supreme Court was highly critical of the current public school funding system, unfortunately the Court, for the first time in decades, decided not to hold the state accountable for meeting its constitutional obligations. It will be more important than ever for  citizens to engage the political process to ensure that this decision is not used as an excuse to backslide into an even more inadequate and inequitable funding system. Rather, families, educators, taxpayers, and all citizens must be the ones to  challenge lawmakers to make the serious structural improvements to our funding system necessary to provide all Texas children a real chance to succeed.”

Zeph Capo, President of Houston Federation of Teachers: “It’s shameful that the state continues to play politics with Texas children’s futures. The people who will suffer are the students and teachers who are doing the best they can with the crumbs that they can pull together.”

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Press conference on Monday re: school finance decision and treating all Texas students with dignity

(Houston, TX) // At 11 am on Monday, May 16, Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston), Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), Houston ISD Board Trustee Anna Eastman, as well as education, civil rights, and LGBT advocates, will hold a press conference to discuss the Texas Supreme Court’s school finance decision and the state’s response to the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance to prevent discrimination against transgender students.

The press conference will be at Senator Ellis’ district office at 440 Louisiana #575, Houston, TX 77002.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court issued its long-awaited school finance decision, ruling that Texas’ school finance system was constitutional despite it being “undeniably imperfect with immense room for improvement,” as the decision stated.

Also on Friday, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance to schools on how to ensure transgender students are not subject to discrimination. That led to threats that Texas will walk away from more than $10 billion in federal education funding.

“At a time when the Supreme Court admits that Texas’ school finance system is barely scraping by constitutionally, we can’t afford to walk away from $10 billion in federal funding that helps to feed and educate our state’s neediest kids,” said Senator Ellis. “Let’s instead turn our focus to investing in our neighborhood schools and treating all of our students with the dignity they deserve.”

Education, civil rights, and LGBT advocates will be present at the press conference, along with area elected officials.

What:       Press conference with elected officials, advocates, and subject matter experts

When:       Monday, May 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

Where:     Senator Rodney Ellis’ office, 440 Louisiana #575, Houston, Texas 77002

Who:         Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston)
Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston)
Representative Borris Miles (D-Houston)
Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston)
Houston ISD Board of Education Trustee Anna Eastman
Representative from Equality Texas
Zeph Capo, President, Houston Federation of Teachers
Philip Fraissinet, Partner, Thompson & Horton LLP

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Sen. Ellis responds to Texas Supreme Court’s school finance decision

(Houston, TX) // Today, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement in response to the Texas Supreme Court decision on the state’s school finance system:

“I am incredibly disappointed that more than five million schoolchildren across Texas are being told they’re not worthy of a school finance system that properly invests in their future.”

“I agree that for too long, Texas has operated as a government by lawsuit: the biggest, most difficult issues facing our state are only addressed when mandated by a court. The school finance system has always been patched rather than perfected, as legislators are seemingly content to see it sputter along another two years in spite of its obvious inequities.”

“But our children deserve better. The legislature must fix the school finance system so that every child across the state – no matter how rich or poor – has access to a quality educational opportunity in their neighborhood schools.”

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Legal leaders to gather in Houston to celebrate 15th anniversary of the Texas Fair Defense Act

(Houston, TX) // On Friday, May 6, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller will gather in Houston at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Texas Fair Defense Act.

The Fair Defense Act, passed in 2001 by Senator Ellis and Senator Hinojosa as Senate Bill 7, is landmark legislation that overhauled the state’s criminal justice system to improve the quality of justice that all Texans receive when they are accused of a crime. Senator Ellis authored Senate Bill 7, which was sponsored by Senator Hinojosa – then a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

Also speaking at the event are Lisa Foster, Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Access to Justice division, and leading attorneys from across the state. This free event is open to the public.

 “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,” said Senator Ellis. “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.”

Senator Ellis continued: “Fifteen years ago, I passed the Texas Fair Defense Act to improve our state’s criminal justice system and ensure that poor Texans are not sentenced to a poor defense. While the Act has helped to move Texas’ justice system forward, quality of justice is still too contingent on your wealth and the attorney you can afford. We have long way to go on the path to providing Texans the reliable, effective, and fair justice they deserve, which is why this symposium is so important.”

When:       Friday, May 6, 2016 from 12:30 pm to 5:00 pm

Where:     Fourteenth Court of Appeals, 301 Fannin Street (North Courtroom), Houston, Texas 77002

Info:          For more information and to register, click here.

Agenda:

12:30 pm        Welcome and Opening Remarks

  • Senator Rodney Ellis and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Sponsors of the Fair Defense Act of 2001

12:45 pm        Commencement and Presentation of Awards

  • Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, Chair and Jim Bethke, Executive Director Texas Indigent Defense Commission

1:15 pm          Keynote Address

  • Lisa Foster, Director, Access to Justice, United States Department of Justice

1:30 pm          A look back over the 15 years: Programs that are making a difference

  • Moderator: Jim Bethke / Texas Indigent Defense Commission
  • Jack Stoffregen / Regional Public Defender Office for Capital Cases
  • Alex Bunin / Harris County Public Defender Office
  • Judge Elisabeth Earle / Capital Area Private Defender Service, Travis County
  • Donnie Yandell / Texas Tech Law/Caprock Public Defender
  • Jordan Pollock / Immigration attorney, Dallas Public Defender Office

2:30 pm          A look forward to challenges that lie ahead

  • Moderator: Andrea Marsh / University of Texas School of Law and Texas Fair Defense Project
  • Michael Young / Chief Public Defender Bexar County
  • Cathy Burnett / State Bar of Texas Legal Services to Poor in Criminal Matters Committee
  • Andrea Keilen / General Counsel, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
  • Jim Allison / General Counsel, County Judges and Commissioners Association

3:30 pm          Closing Remarks / Adjourn

  • Senator Rodney Ellis and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

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