AUSTIN (KXAN) – Ever since the veto which gutted the Public Integrity Unit and led to an indictment against Texas Governor Rick Perry, Travis County taxpayers have been helping pay to keep the unit alive. County Commissioners hope that obligation will end next legislative session if they can negotiate with lawmakers to restore state funding. But at least one lawmaker is ready to move the unit out of Travis County completely.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson believes the unit should be moved to another part of the state and to a place without a partisan lean.
“I have never thought this unit should be placed as an attachment to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office,” said Nelson. “I am certain we will have extensive discussions during the next legislative session regarding where they should be placed, but we need to move them somewhere less partisan.”
Since the $3.7 million a year in state funding was withdrawn in August 2013, the PIU has been cut from 35 employees to 19. Many employees left voluntarily for other jobs once the veto happened, others retired, and only two were laid off according to a spokesperson within the unit. The Travis County Commissioners approved $1.8 million to pay for 15 full-time employees in the unit and the remaining employees are paid through the district attorney office’s “forfeited assets” fund which replenishes slowly according to the PIU.
The amount of cases handled by the unit was also diminished. At the time of the veto, 425 cases were pending but 132 were outside Travis County. The PIU kept Travis County cases and quickly resolved or dismissed all but 66 of the outside cases. Those 66 cases were returned to the agency which referred them to the PIU.
The unit now only takes on cases from Travis County while outside cases are prosecuted by their own jurisdictions.
Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said the county plans to provide similar funding to the PIU during the next budget year but believes the restoration of state funding can be a “win-win” for the county and state.