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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 by Charlotte Moore
Travis Commissioners to discuss funding DA’s Public Integrity Unit
Judge Sam Biscoe put the future of the state’s Public Integrity Unit firmly in the hands of the Travis County Commissioners Court last week. In the wake of Gov. Rick Perry’s line-item veto of a $3.5 million appropriation for the program, Biscoe set the stage for what will likely be a well-watched
“Now it becomes clearly a county matter,” Biscoe said. “The question is: ‘What do we do?’ From a
The Public Integrity Unit is based in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office but is funded by the Legislature. Perry said he vetoed the agency’s funding after DA Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign after a DWI conviction. The unit’s more than 30 employees received layoff notices as a result. Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) filed a last-ditch House resolution to fund the unit but that has, so far, received no traction.
That news came as Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Deece Eckstein reported that the continuing legislative session has been “really long so far” for the county’s lobbying team. In a briefing delivered to the Court last Tuesday, Eckstein reviewed what has been a busy session.
“This is the 30th week in a row the county has had a legislative item on the agenda,” Eckstein told the court. “We’ve been coming and reporting to you since the session began on Jan. 8.” Gridlock regarding transportation funding prompted Perry to call an unwelcome third special session Tuesday afternoon. Though Eckstein noted that the issue is a major one for
Eckstein told the court that during the 83rd Legislature’s regular session ending in May, nearly 1,500 of the more than 6,000 bills filed were tracked by
According to Eckstein, those actions include the creation of two new criminal courts – a district court and a county court of law – that will open in Sept. 2015. Legislators also created a civil filing fee which
“We also passed legislation to allow the sheriff’s office to enforce commercial motor vehicle regulations,” he continued. “This is actually a very important safety issue for our taxpayers and traffic congestion issue.”
Because the 2013 legislative session began with an $8.8 billion surplus, legislators restored funding to $361 million in cuts to counties it made during the 2011 session to help cover a $27 billion shortfall. The $77 million cut to the Low Income Repair Assistance Program – an effort that helps vehicle owners with inspection-related repairs or down payments toward qualifying vehicles – was restored. In November, voters will have the opportunity to vote on property tax exemption expansions involving a break for surviving spouses of US military personnel killed in action. If passed, the exemptions are expected to have a minimal effect on county revenue.
Eckstein further reminded the court that voters will also weigh in on new water infrastructure legislation, a program that could create a $2 billion revolving fund for state water conservation and reservoir building contracts.
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