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The Brief: April 8, 2013

Tensions have escalated again in the long-running power struggle engulfing the state's largest university system.

A look at the sun setting over the University of Texas at Austin Tower in 2011.

The Big Conversation

Tensions have escalated again in the long-running power struggle engulfing the state's largest university system. 

The latest bout of drama, as the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton reports, started Friday, when Gene Powell, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, asked Attorney General Greg Abbott whether the system would be able to withhold some information from state lawmakers seeking system records. (Lawmakers usually receive privileged access to agency records.)

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo — one of the legislators who has filed an open records request with the system over concerns that the board is attempting to undermine UT-Austin President Bill Powers  said in a statement, "My only conclusion is that they have something to hide." 

Randall "Buck" Wood, an Austin lawyer and open records expert, called Powell’s request "frivolous."

On Saturday, UT Regent Alex Cranberg said the Legislature’s Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency — which was formed in 2011 to investigate the tension at UT-Austin — should meet to address the new concerns. 

"The legislators have serious questions," Cranberg said. "Let’s be able to respond."

But Cranberg's comments failed to satisify lawmakers on the committee. "It’s ridiculous for the system to call for a hearing at the same time it’s trying to conceal documents that would serve to illuminate," said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. "Can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Not good practice, not good policy. Just continued games.”

The strained relationship between UT-Austin and the university system dates back two years, when Powers began clashing with regents — who are appointed by Perry — over higher education proposals touted by Gov. Rick Perry and conservative groups. The Houston Chronicle reported two weeks ago that Perry had "communicated through emissaries that Powers should resign to avoid an embarrassing regents vote to fire him."


•    Texas House, Senate panels to take up private school tax credits (The Dallas Morning News): "Despite the overwhelming House vote Thursday against private school vouchers and tax credits, school-choice supporters will press forward in the House and Senate next week with bills that would divert state money to private and religious schools. The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a Tuesday hearing on legislation by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, that would allow businesses to receive a tax credit for donations used to pay for private and religious school scholarships."

•    Backgrounder: Early Voting in Texas (Texas Redistricting): "On Monday, the House elections committee is set to take up a proposal that would sharply cut back the early voting period in Texas. Here’s a backgrounder on early voting in Texas and how it compares to other states."

•    12 GOP senators back Rand Paul on gun-control filibuster (Politico): "Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s threat to filibuster any new gun restrictions is gathering steam, as a dozen of his Republican colleagues have now signed onto his plan. The Kentucky Republican and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) first wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid late last month to warn him of their intention to try to tie up the Senate if, as planned, Reid moved forward with legislation that would expand background checks and attempt to crack down on interstate gun trafficking."

•    For Budget Vote, House Had a Women's Health Negotiator (The Texas Tribune): "The behind-the-scenes, bipartisan negotiations that kept Thursday’s budget battle from devolving into a fight over abortion and Planned Parenthood had a noticeable effect: It preserved more robust family planning and women’s health financing for the 2014-15 biennium. From both sides of the aisle, one lawmaker is largely getting the credit: state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place."

Quote of the Day: "I do believe it is right under the purview of scripture for the church to judge certain behaviors. But that is totally different from judging fellow sinners. … We must love all." — Gov. Rick Perry, speaking on Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Dallas


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