Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, a Democrat representing District 13 in Houston, has been a member of the Senate since 1990. He graduated from Texas Southern University with a Bachelor of Arts; he received his M.P.A. (Master of Public Administration) from the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs, and got his J.D. (Justice of the Peace / Law Degree) from the University of Texas Law School. The senator is also a partner with Rice Financial Products Company; he is a shareholder in the Tagos Group; and he is an attorney associated with the Reaud, Morgan, & Quinn law firm. Senator Ellis is married to Licia Green-Ellis and the couple has four children. This paper reviews Ellis' career, his important issues, the controversies he has been involved in and other matters that are pertinent to this legislator.
Senator Rodney Ellis's Career and Community Involvement
Prior to being elected to the Texas Senate, Ellis served as a member of the Houston City Council; Ellis served three terms in the Houston City Council. He also served as the chief of staff for United States Congressman Mickey Leland. While in the Texas Senate, Senator Ellis has served on a number of important committees, according to his web pages on the Texas Senate website. He has chaired the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Jurisprudence Committee and the Intergovernmental Relations Committee during his tenure in the Senate.
Presently Senator Ellis is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Organization, a committed that examines "…measures to improve the efficiency of state government" (Texas Senate Website). He is also on the following committees in Austin: Senate State Affairs; Criminal Justice; Transportation and Homeland Security; and the Open Government Committees (Texas Senate Website).
Also, Ellis is proud he states on his personal page for having founded the Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP), which has grown to be the largest legislative internship program in the State of Texas. About 400 young people have been involved as interns and in fact three former TLIP participants "…are currently members of the Texas House of Representatives" (Texas Senate Website).
Senator Ellis's Legislative Record
Senators in every state have web pages that tout their legislative successes (rarely do they mention the bills they sponsored that fail); in a way it seems like bragging but in fact members of the public pay taxes to hire representatives and so it is only reasonable and logical for those elected officials to list the legislation they have authored and shepherded through the process.
For Ellis, given the number of years he has served in the Texas Senate, he has an impressive list of legislative accomplishments. In this paper a few of the more important pieces of legislation that Ellis is responsible for will be mentioned. It should be noted that in Texas the Legislature only meets every other year, so an elected representative has to be well prepared both fiscally and politically to get legislation passed.
In 1993, Senator Ellis wrote a bill to require hospitals that are nonprofit to "provide health care services, including charity care," and he later authored a bill mandating that nonprofit hospitals provide "…its community benefits of at least five percent of the hospital's or hospital system's net patient revenue" (Texas State Senate). In 1997 Senator Ellis created the "Texas Capital Access Fund" which provided $140 million in private lending to Texas small businesses and to Texas nonprofit organizations.
The Senator has been at the forefront of campaigns to level the playing field for minorities when it comes to fairness and justice in Texas. He got legislation passed that would eliminate "race-based pricing"; in 2003 he wrote a bill that made it illegal for "certain insurers to collect premiums on a policy where the rates are based on a person's ethnic heritage, skin color, religion or race. He also passed legislation in 1993 that helps to give more contracts from the state to minority and women-owned businesses. In 1997 the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children named him "Legislator of the Year"; Ellis was honored because he has worked with others to promote high quality childcare for Texas families.
Showing he was also concerned about ethical matters, in 2003, Ellis passed legislation that requires financial disclosure for politicians; it also requires that legislators cannot represent people "for compensation before state agencies" and mandates that an elected official in the Texas State Legislature must file a notice prior to introducing or sponsoring, or even voting on "…a measure for which a close relative is lobbying" (Texas State Senate).
There are more legislative accomplishments -- including: screening felons for HIV prior to releasing them to the community; combating hate crimes; investing in Texas public schools; and identity theft protection.
Senator Ellis's Recent Activities in Texas
Clearly Ellis has shown through his career that he is on the side of the underdog, on the side of the oppressed, on the side of minorities and women and families. He is an Africa-American but he has defended the Constitutional rights of many different nationalities and ethnicities, and has made it clear that justice should be expected and should be the norm in America.
Ellis has testified in a recent federal trial about the perception that by requiring all voters to have a voter ID the State of Texas is trying to reduce the number of minorities and elderly people who vote. Those two demographics are most likely, based on the history of voting, to vote Democrat. Ellis told the three judge panel that the Republicans in the Texas Legislature "…knew what they were doing, and they intended to do. The bill has everything to do with race," he emphasized (Martin, 2012).
The Senator said that requiring a government-issued card with a photo, or a passport or a license to carry a concealed weapon, "…would have a negative impact on black and Hispanic voters" because those minority groups are less likely to have the documents necessary to obtain a photo ID (Martin, p. 1). Another person that testified before the three-judge panel was Daron Shaw, a pollster with the University of Texas, said in contradicting Ellis that "…there is no evidence that that will occur whatsoever… It will not have an impact on turnout" (Martin, p. 2). It is worth noting that Shaw was once hired by GOP fundraiser and strategist Karl Rove to go to work on the presidential campaign of George W. Bush; in other words, Shaw was not exactly an objective witness to testify before the panel (Martin, p. 2).
Another article in the Houston Chronicle reflects that Ellis has sent a letter to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) showing his concern over two very controversial things that have happened recently. One of the issues that Ellis was concerned about related to religion and fairness. The TAPPS administrators refused to reschedule a basketball game for the Jewish Orthodox school in Houston (the Robert M. Beren Academy). The reason the school asked for a reschedule of that game is because it was originally scheduled on the Jewish Sabbath (Mulvaney, 2012).
The second incident that Ellis objected to was the way in which the TAPPS group denied membership to the Houston-based Iman Academy (an Islamic group). Along with the Iman Academy, other Muslim groups have received "questionnaires about Islam that were considered loaded and provocative by school administrators" (Mulvaney, p. 1). Among the provocative questions on the questionnaire sent to Muslim groups was the question as to whether Muslims believe "… the Bible is corrupt" and also the question as to the nature of "…the spread of Islam in America" (Mulvaney, p. 1).
Ellis's letter attempted to coax TAPPS into taking another look at their guidelines to see if they could in the future avoid being seen…