Voting along partisan lines, the Senate’s State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 on Monday to move the ironically named Public Integrity Unit out of the Democrat-controlled Travis County District Attorney’s Office, instead placing the authority under the state Attorney General.
“The Public Integrity Unit needs to be reformed,” said the legislation’s sponsor, State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), a former judge. “The time is right for these changes which will restore public confidence in these critical processes.”
Huffman’s legislation, SB 10, would move the duties of the PIU to the state Attorney General’s office. Conservatives have argued that such a change is necessary due to abuse of the unit’s functions by the Travis County District Attorney, a liberal Democrat.
“There has been a sad history of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office engaging in politically-motivated prosecutions,” said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
Last year, former Gov. Rick Perry vetoed state funding of the agency after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. During her arrest and detention, she reacted so belligerently towards arresting officers she had to be physically restrained. The entire exchange was captured on video.
Perry was indicted in Travis County as a result of the line-item veto.
In the past, the Public Integrity Unit has been used by Travis County Democrats in politically motivated prosecutions of Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Both were eventually acquitted.
The action by the Texas Senate marks a stark contrast with the Texas House. In her proposed budget, State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) zeroed out the Travis County PIU, in essence continuing Perry’s veto. Meanwhile House Speaker Joe Straus has advocated for restoring funding to the agency.
“The base budget in the House continues to fund a public integrity unit,” said Straus in a February interview.
In response to a question about potentially be housing the unit in the Office of the Attorney General, exactly what Huffman’s bill would do, Straus said “I believe that’s a constitutional issue and I don’t see that happening.”
The actions and rhetoric of Straus should come as no surprise. Straus’ handpicked witch hunt committee even voted to ask the unit to indict whistleblower Wallace Hall. For years, Straus, along with his liberal Republicans and Democrat allies, has benefited from the targeting of conservatives by the scandal-ridden unit.