A state lawmaker wants to know if it’s legal to have taxpayers foot the $450-an-hour bill for the attorney hired to defend Gov. Rick Perry in a grand jury investigation.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, on Friday sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asking for a legal opinion.

“What authority, if any, can the attorney general authorize hiring private counsel for the governor?" Deshotel asks in his four-page letter to Abbott. “If authority to hire private counsel exists, how would the attorney general authorize payment for such private counsel?”

A grand jury in Austin is considering whether Perry overstepped his authority when he vetoed $7.5 million in funding to the Travis County district attorney's public integrity unit, which handles cases involving state taxes, insurance fraud and criminal misconduct by state officials. Perry vetoed the funding from the state budget last June after District Attorney Rosemary Lemhberg refused to resign following a drunken driving arrest. 

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The grand jury began meeting a week ago. Perry hired private attorney David Botsford to represent him in the case and is paying him with state funds.

Deshotel, reached late Friday, said he wants to know why a private attorney is representing Perry instead of the attorney general.

“I wonder if it’s something Perry should be paying for,” Deshotel said. “It’s just a question. I don’t see who would not want the answer to it. Who would not want to know?”

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