Governor Signs Legislation to Create Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission

HOUSTON, TX (June 25, 2009) – Legislation that would create the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission has been signed into law by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Senate Bill (SB) 482, introduced by Sens. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) during the 81st regular session, creates an unpaid, 18-member commission to help ensure that educators in Texas have the guidance and resources necessary to teach children the lessons of the Holocaust and other contemporary genocides.

The bill, which was initiated and backed by Holocaust Museum Houston, was passed unanimously by both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate and signed into law by Perry on June 19. The legislation takes effect Sept. 1, 2009.

"It was my privilege to author SB 482 creating the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. The incident that took place a few weeks ago at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, when security guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns, was shot and killed, is a reminder that hate and intolerance still exist in this country. It is important, necessary, in fact, that we have institutions in place that teach tolerance. I am pleased that the governor recognized this necessity and signed the legislation creating the commission," Ellis said.

“Just since 1945, we have seen genocides in places like Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The conflict in the Congo appears likely to be the next. And yet, we at Holocaust Museum Houston and other similar institutions around the state are continually surprised by how little today’s students in Texas are aware of the Holocaust or more recent contemporary genocides and how little they understand of their individual responsibility to make our world a better place. This legislation will help change that,” said Museum Executive Director Susan Myers.

“After the Holocaust, we swore ‘never again,’ but unfortunately we failed. Genocides have occurred and are going on even today at this very moment,” said Chaja Verveer, a Friendswood resident who survived the Holocaust as a child and later made her way to the United States.

“I am one of the last living witnesses of the Holocaust who can speak about the unspeakable that happened then; we are fast fading from the scene,” she said in her testimony before the Senate State Affairs and House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committees to urge passage of the legislation. “Others need to take our place and teach students to make them aware of what happened and could happen again to fight bigotry, hatred and prejudice and about learning to live together to embrace diversity.”

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, who co-authored an identical bill in the Texas House, said she was particularly appreciative that the governor recognized the need for such a commission. "With the education and awareness these efforts will bring, perhaps we can look forward to a day when acts of such unspeakable horror are a part of history, never to be repeated," she said.

Under provisions of the legislation, the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House of Representatives will appoint the 18 commission members. The commission would include the state commissioner of education, the commissioner of higher education and the executive director of the Texas Veterans Commission.

The commission will work under the auspices of the Texas Historical Commission to provide advice and assistance to public and private primary schools, secondary schools and institutions of higher education regarding implementation of Holocaust and genocide courses of study and awareness programs.

The commission is also charged with compiling a list of volunteers such as survivors of the Holocaust or other genocides, liberators of concentration camps, scholars and members of the clergy who have agreed to share verifiable knowledge and experience regarding the Holocaust or other genocides. It would also coordinate state events regarding the United Nations’ designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Twelve other states have similar councils or commissions.

Co-sponsors for the bill in the Senate included: Sens. John J. Carona; Bob Deuell; Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa; Eddie Lucio, Jr.; Kel Seliger; Leticia Van de Putte; Jeff Wentworth; and Royce West.

House Bill 795, the identical partner to Senate Bill 482 was authored primarily by state Reps. Warren Chisum and Ellen Cohen, with additional authoring by Reps. Elliott Naishtat, Senfronia Thompson and Dan Branch. Co-sponsors for the bill in the House included: Reps. Alma A. Allen; Carol Alvarado; Leo Berman; Dwayne Bohac; Angie Chen Button; Norma Chavez; John E. Davis; Al Edwards; Veronica Gonzalez; Ryan Guillen; Will Hartnett; David Leibowitz; Sid Miller; Joseph E. Moody; Solomon Ortiz, Jr.; Tan Parker; Mark Shelton; and Randy Weber.

The idea for the commission was supported by other museums around the state, including the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education & Tolerance, El Paso Holocaust Museum and Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio.

Many other organizations — including the Anti-Defamation League Southwest and North Texas Regions; Ballet Austin; Jewish Federation of Greater Houston; San Antonio Darfur Interfaith Coalition; Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars and the national organizations Genocide Intervention Network, Save Darfur, STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition — also expressed support for the legislation.

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy. Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.

For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

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