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The Brief: Top Texas News for Aug. 7, 2013

Despite Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to zero out state financing for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, the prosecutorial team will live on.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down after her April 2013 drunken driving arrest, and Gov. Rick Perry vetoed funding for the public integrity unit, which is housed in the Travis County DA's office.

The Big Conversation

Despite Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to zero out state financing for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, the prosecutorial team will live on. The Travis County Commissioner’s Court voted 4-1 on Tuesday to use local county funds to continue financing the unit, which prosecutes fraud and corruption across the state, for at least another year.

In June, Perry made good on his threat to line-item veto the unit's state financing in the 2014-15 budget unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned from her post and allowed the governor to appoint her successor. Lehmberg, who served jail time after being convicted of drunk driving in April, refused to resign.

Lehmberg told reporters on Tuesday that she made “a huge mistake,” according to The Austin American-Statesman.

“I have worked steadfastly to regain the confidence of the community, and I’m going to continue to do that,” Lehmberg said. “But it is not Rick Perry’s job to fire me or to remove me. (The veto is) unconstitutional, and it’s probably illegal.”

The unit will be forced to downsize from 34 to 24 employees, as its annual budget will shrink from $3.7 million to $2.5 million. It will also reduce its responsibilities by transferring at least 52 of 425 current cases back to the state agencies that referred them.

The new budget includes $1.8 million in Travis county tax funds and more than $734,000 from a forfeited property fund. It took the county at least 10 years to accumulate more than $900,000 in the forfeited property fund; therefore, it’s unclear how the county would continue to fund the unit in 2015.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who cast the lone dissenting vote, publicly questioned whether it was fair to spend local tax dollars to finance the unit. While other commissioners recognized that it was a difficult decision, they argued the county had a moral responsibility to prosecute fraud and corruption. “My fear is that some of that would be lost by simply saying, 'no,’” said Commissioner Bruce Todd.


•     Post-Romney, some in GOP reject advice to moderate (Associated Press): “After Mitt Romney's 2012 loss, many senior Republicans concluded the party must moderate its image on issues such as immigration and reproductive rights. But some GOP lawmakers have done the opposite. They imposed new restrictions on abortion in several states. They are strongly resisting a broad immigration bill in the U.S. House. They're waging a steady assault on "Obamacare," with some House and Senate Republicans vowing to shut down the government if that's what it takes to choke off the health care law Congress enacted in 2010.”

•    State to Feds: We Won't Enforce Insurance Reforms (The Texas Tribune): “Though Texas will join 26 other states in defaulting to a federal marketplace for purchasing health insurance — a major component of the Affordable Care Act — it is one of only six that will not enforce new health insurance reforms prescribed by the law. It's a decision some say could lead to confusion over who's responsible for protecting Texas insurance consumers.”

•    New school rating system tougher to decode, critics say, (The Austin American-Statesman): “On Thursday, state education officials for the first time will release accountability ratings based on a new measure that aims to account for those complexities, such as helping low-income and minority students catch up, but they could prove difficult for parents to understand, educators say.”

 Quote to Note:  "My colleagues and I saw firsthand the tragedies of this border and the loss of life when we saw a body floating just a few minutes ago on this river," — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, on his tour of the Texas-Mexico border. 


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