House panel delays impeachment charges for Hall

AUSTIN (AP) — A Texas House panel began drafting articles of impeachment against embattled University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall on Wednesday, just as Gov. Rick Perry issued one of his strongest statements yet supporting the Dallas businessman.

Both moves ramped up the muscle-flexing between the governor and state lawmakers over higher education in Texas and came a day after Hall said he won’t resign, despite pressure to do so from the chairman of the Board of Regents.

The Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations already voted May 12 that grounds exists to impeach Hall over his efforts to force out the president of the flagship Austin campus. The panel now must write formal charges to send to the full House. If approved by the House, the matter would be sent to the Senate for a trial.

If impeached, Hall could be the first governor-appointed official removed from office in state history.

Soon after the panel retreated behind closed doors Wednesday to start its work, Perry issued his statement supporting Hall.

“Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every appointee in the State of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth,” Perry said in a statement. “Texans should be outraged by his treatment, and deeply concerned it will have a chilling effect on those who are tasked with the oversight of state agencies and institutions that they are responsible for.”

Hall has been accused of abusing the powers of his office and possibly breaking student privacy laws in his efforts to oust Austin campus President Bill Powers, which included personal probes of campus admissions and fundraising.

Hall also faces a separate criminal investigation by Travis County prosecutors. He denies breaking the law.

Hall was appointed by Perry in 2011. He is one of nine board members and isn’t the only one who has clashed with Powers over myriad issues, including tuition and graduation rates and the role of teaching and research in education.

But it has been Hall’s aggressive and relentless pursuit of records and questions over Powers’ leadership that drew scrutiny from lawmakers and criticism from some powerful Texas alumni and donors.

Lawmakers began their impeachment investigation nearly a year ago and the fight between Perry and the Legislature over Hall is likely to drag on for several more months. The chairmen of the House committee say they won’t vote on articles of impeachment for several more weeks. The panel doesn’t meet again until July 7.

Despite Perry’s rigorous defense of Hall, panel members seemed determined to press for formal charges.

Panel co-chair Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, called the committee’s handling of the investigation “very fair, very thorough” and noted Hall had refused to testify. Co-chair Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said it would be “helpful” if Hall would resign.

“Regent Hall could simply put an end to the process by resigning,” Alvarado said. “But he’s chose not to … so we have a job to do.”

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