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Travis County Looks at Funding Options for Public Integrity Unit

Travis County prosecutors Gary Cobb and Rosemary Lehmberg speaking to the media after the sentence was handed down.
Image by Matt Largey for KUT News
Travis County prosecutors Gary Cobb and Rosemary Lehmberg speaking to the media after the sentence was handed down.

The future of the Public Integrity Unit - an arm of the Travis County's District Attorney's Office with about 600 statewide fraud cases open that was recently defunded by Gov. Rick Perry - is anything but certain. 

Today, the Travis County Commissioners Court  looked at some alternatives to fund the office, which could shutter its doors on Sept. 30 and leave 31 employees jobless. 

  • Override the veto — The hope is to find a way to override the governor's line-item veto that de-funded the PIU, thus bringing back state funding. State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) suggested filing a concurrent resolution that could seek the funding. That, however, requires the approval of both houses. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.
  • Reach out to agencies — This would also require the lobbying of lawmakers to convince state-funded agencies like the Department of Insurance and Texas Comptroller’s Criminal Investigative Division to fund the unit. Both groups are cooperating with the PIU on cases the unit is overseeing. If those groups could pay for their own investigations, that would ease the burden on Travis County.
  • Make more room in the budget — The county could look at its revenue sources and include the PIU in its budget. Other counties with similar units that investigate white-collar crimes fund their departments directly. Bexar County is a prime example. It has no state funding and has a similar caseload as that of Travis. The only reason Travis County secured state funds for the PIU is because it’s the capital city and thus investigates state government-level crimes.

The commissioners did not solidify a plan of action; the commissioners' only agreement was that time was not on their side. They have until Sept. 30 to decide on a plan of action. 
Gov. Perry struck the unit's funding from the state budget after Lehmberg refused to resign following her arrest for drunken driving in April. The governor issued an ultimatum to resign or lose funding, and said that Lehmberg's behavior was unbecoming of a public officer.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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