FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 03/03/2015
Murr Files Legislation to Relocate the Public Integrity Unit
Austin: Today, State Representative Andrew Murr (House District 53) filed a comprehensive bill to relocate the duties and responsibilities of the Public Integrity Unit, currently housed within the Travis County District Attorney's Office, to strengthen ethics enforcement in Texas.
The Public Integrity Unit, as part of the Travis County District Attorney's Office, handles complaints and prosecutions involving state officials and employees. In addition, the Legislature has delegated statewide jurisdiction to that office to prosecute insurance fraud and motor fuel tax cases.
Murr's legislation would separate the Texas Public Integrity Unit from the Travis County District Attorney, with oversight of the unit by a committee composed of the presiding judges of each of Texas' nine administrative judicial regions. Each region's presiding judge -- typically a district judge or senior district judge -- is appointed by the Governor for a four year term. The committee would supervise and oversee the unit and its director, a qualified state prosecutor, ensuring that appropriate policies are in place to maintain strong ethics and confidence in that office.
Murr stated, "We expect our judicial branch of government to be sensible and avoid putting politics into play. Oversight of the unit by a committee composed of judges from around the state provides a competent and pragmatic approach in supervising a necessary infrastructure to maintain important ethics laws and transparency in our state government."
In 2013, Governor Perry questioned the confidence he had in the Travis County District Attorney following her arrest and conviction for DWI. He subsequently vetoed state funding for the unit. Since then, the unit has remained partially funded using Travis County taxpayer dollars. The Texas House of Representatives' base budget includes funding for the Public Integrity Unit, contingent upon its relocation away from the DA's office.
Representative Murr, after meeting with representatives of the Governor's office, Speaker's office and the Office of Court Administration, filed HB 2222. Governor Abbott, in his State of the State address, proclaimed ethics legislation as one of five emergency items that he asked the Legislature to give expedited attention.
Murr explained, "The public has an expectation that Texas have ethics laws in place to ensure that we operate state government in a transparent manner and hold those who do not follow our laws accountable for their conduct. At the same time, we do not want a system where politics and personalities inject distrust and skepticism into any prosecution. With all the media attention surrounding the current status of the Public Integrity Unit, I want to make sure there is a viable and thought-out plan in place to restore integrity in this process."