Editorials

A nonpolitical home for Public Integrity Unit

When state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, introduced the Senate’s initial 2016-17 budget plan last week as chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, she said it includes no money for the Public Integrity Unit.

That’s the formerly state-funded office, supervised by the Travis County district attorney from 1982 until then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the funding in 2013, that prosecutes official misconduct cases against state officials and agency employees.

Nelson wants lawmakers to put the unit someplace else because the Travis DA’s office is “too political.”

Travis County is one of the few islands of Democratic dominance in a state that has put Republicans in charge of all nonjudicial state offices for more than a decade.

So we need a nonpolitical place to prosecute errant public officials. We don’t know yet where that might be.

The House budget proposed by Speaker Joe Straus includes $6.6 million to fund the unit for two years, contingent on lawmakers approving ways “to reform the system of investigating and prosecuting crimes related to state government.”

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Spring, has proposed moving the Public Integrity Unit to the attorney general’s control.

But the DA’s office in Travis County has original jurisdiction over crimes committed there, and that’s where state government is headquartered.

Riddle has offered a constitutional amendment to move original jurisdiction on misconduct cases to the attorney general. But that must be approved by two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate, and Republicans don’t hold that many seats in the Senate.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, told Nelson’s Finance Committee on Monday that some legal experts believe that the Legislature could make the change without amending the constitution.

That means giving the attorney general the powers of a prosecutor, which that office does not have now, without Texans having a vote on the matter.

That’s not good.

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