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Panel Set to Start Working on Impeachment Articles

For the first time since voting that grounds exist for the impeachment of University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, a legislative committee is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday afternoon.

A week after voting that grounds exist for the impeachment of University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, a legislative committee will start drilling down on drafting specific articles of impeachment when it reconvenes Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations is expected to largely occur behind closed doors in executive session. Members are expected to work on winnowing down articles of impeachment that could be recommended to the full Texas House for consideration. Little to no action is expected to be taken Wednesday — multiple committee members indicated that they have already discussed future dates for additional work on the articles.

Hall has been accused of abusing his authority in the course of conducting personal investigations into the University of Texas at Austin administration. A report prepared by the legislative committee's special counsel, Rusty Hardin, asserted that the regent might have run afoul of the law by sharing protected student information with his lawyers. That specific issue has been referred to the public integrity unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office, where an investigation has been opened.

The regent has denied any wrongdoing. Following the committee's 7-1 vote on May 12 that grounds for impeachment exist, Hall issued a statement saying, "My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them."

“If the Transparency Committee desires transparency," Hall said, "it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas."

At last week’s meeting, committee members signaled a desire for the UT System Board of Regents to address their concerns about Hall before the committee took additional steps toward recommending articles of impeachment. Last week, UT System Board Chairman Paul Foster publicly asked Hall to resign. On Monday, Hall sent Foster a letter indicating that he intended to remain on the board.

"I think it's unfortunate for the UT System and for Wallace Hall and his family that he didn't resign based on the request from Chairman Foster, but it doesn't surprise me," state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, a transparency committee member, said Tuesday. Larson has called on Gov. Rick Perry to ask for Hall's resignation multiple times, and even reached out directly to Hall to encourage him to step down.

In a statement this week, Hall said, "Will the public ever know the truth about problems in our institutions if legislators are allowed to impeach Board members who reveal them?"

Larson did note that he was pleased with recent changes to the board's rules that, among other things, put certain checks in place to ensure that controversial requests for information — something that Hall has become known for making — are discussed by the full board before they are required to be fulfilled.

At a recent board meeting of the UT System, a report was released highlighting concerns about the influence of lawmakers in the admissions process at UT-Austin, an issue that Hall has been particularly interested in. Larson said the report did not change his opinion about the regent, because Hall's methods are his primary concern.

Since their May 12 vote, the transparency committee’s members have indicated that the process of drawing up articles of impeachment could take some time. And there is no guarantee that, once drafted, a majority of the board will come to a consensus on any of them.

"I think it's going to be a lengthy process," state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, one of the committee's co-chairs, told reporters. "You have eight members with eight different opinions, so we have to come to some consensus about what those articles will be."

Her fellow co-chair, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, agreed. "Drawing up articles of impeachment is not going to be a Sunday-go-to-meeting," he said.

Larson told The Texas Tribune that a number of the committee members are awaiting the results of the public integrity unit’s criminal investigation before taking any further steps.

"A large portion of the committee would like to see the Travis County DA get out in front on this," he said, "and we'll continue to work on the articles on impeachment concurrent with that."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Paul Foster is a major donor to the Tribune. Rusty Hardin was a major donor to the Tribune in 2012 and 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/05/21/committee-meet-work-impeachment-articles/.

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