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The Brief: Aug. 12, 2014

Wallace Hall's future at the University of Texas System turned clearer on Monday: Lawmakers scolded the embattled regent but decided to keep him around — for now, at least.

University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall talks with colleague Gene Powell during a break at a regents' meeting  on May 14, 2014.

The Big Conversation

Wallace Hall's future at the University of Texas System turned clearer on Monday: Lawmakers publicly scolded the embattled regent but decided to keep him around – for now, at least.

After a year-long investigation into a saga that has roiled Texas politics, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 6-1 to admonish and censure Hall for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.” Those charges related to Hall's drawn-out investigations of University of Texas at Austin administrators and his handling of private student information. Hall has alleged the university has allowed lawmakers to unduly influence the admissions process. 

Ahead of the vote, the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton reported that the committee had several options, including "voting on articles of impeachment against Hall, waiting on the results of a separate criminal investigation, issuing guidelines for all regents or considering another type of reprimand."   

Though the lawmakers stopped short of pushing for impeachment, co-chairwoman Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, did not rule that out as a future option. “A vote to censure is not a vote against impeachment,” she said, according to Hamilton's report. 

With its decision, the committee "appeared to have found a middle ground between inaction and impeachment that reflected a certain political calculation," wrote Ralph K.M. Haurwitz of the Austin American-Statesman. "Censure is a public statement of disapproval, whereas a recommendation for impeachment by the full House would have triggered a new round of review and potentially a trial in the Senate to determine whether Hall should be removed from the Board of Regents."

Hall, who has denied wrongdoing and suggested his actions fell within his job description, issued a statement calling the committee's findings "based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations."

Gov. Rick Perry, who has defended his appointee amid the investigation, said in a statement that he hopes the vote "closes this ugly chapter and Regent Hall’s critics can stop wasting time and start focusing on what’s important — ensuring higher education is affordable, accessible and accountable to all Texans."

The Associated Press' Jim Vertuno noted that the committee spent more than $500,000 on the investigation.

Meanwhile, system officials said Monday that they had hired an independent firm to investigate the admissions process. Marissa Barnett of The Dallas Morning News reported that "the focus of the current investigation will not be on letters of recommendation written by legislators or other external letters of recommendation, but in the admissions process and handling of applications."

The Day Ahead

•    The Texas House Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives will meet at the Plano Municipal Center to discuss the Texas Enterprise Fund, Emerging Technology Fund and other incentives. 

•    The Texas Senate Committee on Finance will meet to discuss the budget process, general revenue outlook, Texas economy, constitutional spending limits, the Economic Stabilization Fund, methods of finance and border issues impacting the state budget.

Trib Must-Reads

Transparency Committee Votes to Censure UT Regent Hall, by Reeve Hamilton

Disappearing Rio Grande, by Colin McDonald and Erich Schlegel

Houston Medical Center Considers Ways to Prevent Ebola, by Terri Langford

Pegasus Pipeline's Partial Restart Concerns Some Texans, by Jim Malewitz

Gun Groups Oppose Allowing Alcohol Sales at Gun Shows, by Eli Okun

Feds: Texas Responsible for Misspent Medicaid Dollars, by Becca Aaronson


House panel censures UT regent but leaves impeachment as future optionAustin American-Statesman

Davis: Rape victim knew case could be raised in guv race, Houston Chronicle

A new environmental dispute brews between feds and Texas over water, Austin American-Statesman

Christian conservatives look for candidate to rally around, Dallas Morning News

Authorities seeing more grenades across the ValleyMcAllen Monitor

New Rule Planned on Guns Lost in TransitThe Wall Street Journal

Quote to Note

“If you were hoping to protect Texans from the payday loan industry, you would need to approach a commission overseen by the vice president of a payday loan company, and then introduce a bill into the state Legislature where the owner of 12 payday loan stores will debate the merits of the payday loan industry with one of the payday loan’s future (expletive) lobbyists.”

—  Comedian John Oliver during a segment on his HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver discussing the influence of the payday loan industry in Texas and other states

Today in TribTalk

Why the gender gap in Texas politics matters, by Ann Beeson

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Health Care: What's Next?: Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith will lead a discussion with two of the Legislature's most respected thinkers on health care, state Reps. Garnet Coleman and John Zerwas, on Aug. 18 in Richardson. The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required. 

•    The Texas Tribune Festival runs from Sept. 19-21 at the University of Texas at Austin.

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