Voting along party lines, the Texas Senate voted Wednesday to advance legislation taking the Public Integrity Unit from the jurisdiction of liberal Democrat-controlled Travis County District Attorney’s Office. That authority will now rest with the Texas Rangers and local prosecutors around the state.
“Moving the Public Integrity Unit will help restore its accountability and the public’s trust,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. “It is important and befitting that any alleged unlawful activity by a public official be investigated in their jurisdiction and adjudicated by their constituents.”
Known for political targeting and malfeasance, the PIU made headlines 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.
When Lehmberg refused to resign, then Gov. Rick Perry line item vetoed the funding. Travis County then appropriated money from its coffers to continue the funding agency and indicted Gov. Perry for merely exercising his constitutional authority.
The targeting wasn’t just limited to Perry.
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 U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Both were eventually acquitted.
The Senate bill, SB 10 by State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Brazoria), originally moved the PIU to the attorney general’s office, but was objected to by State Sens. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) and Kel Seliger (R-Midland).
Perhaps after facing pressure from their constituents, both senators ended up supporting a watered-down substitute that removed the AG’s office and gave the Texas Rangers sole authority to pursue investigations with cases decided in lawmakers’ home counties. Though the measure is undoubtebly an improvement, it still does not provide any electoral controls on the process for Texans.