By: Tim Easton
AUSTIN- A Democratic member of the Texas House on Monday repeatedly reminded the body that the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates politicians’ ethical breaches, motor fuels tax and insurance fraud, has 400 active cases and needs continued funding. State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, told the Texas House that he intends to ensure the Public Integrity Unit gets the money it requires to operate, despite Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of the state’s $7.5 million appropriation to the office.
Turner has been fighting attempts for 10 years to move, de-fund and outright kill the Public Integrity Unit, which is based in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, he said. But this year, the effort has been especially challenging since Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and served time in jail for drunken driving.
But Lehmberg aside, it would be irresponsible to take away funding for the unit, Turner said.
“We’re going to push the issue,” Turner said.
From the back microphone of the Texas House, Turner asked Speaker Joe Straus if any options exist to fund the unit. Straus said after meeting of the House that his office would do some research for Turner.
“With the questions from Mr. Turner and others, it’s certainly something that we should explore with the governor and with the Public Integrity Unit personnel. I’m assuming that the governor’s office has considered this,” Straus said in an interview. “We just have to assess where we are, and what the implications are as we go forward.”
Turner also said that he planned to file a resolution to say the House intends to override Gov. Rick Perry’s line-item veto, even though it is not clear if the Legislature has that authority. The funding was passed during the regular session, and the Legislature is in special session now. Furthermore, Perry controls the special session agenda, and he did not put the budget on lawmakers’ to-do list.
“The issue really hasn’t been addressed,” Turner said after the session. “I think this is a good one to set precedent on.”
Also, State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, asked from the House floor if funding could be revived if Lehmberg resigns.
But Dale Craymer, president of Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, had a thought. The former top budget official for Govs. Ann Richards and George W. Bush said it is possible to restore funding through budget execution action, which involves the governor and the Legislative Budget Board agreeing on moving money from other parts of the budget.