Pitts Working to Impeach Controversial UT System Regent
Update (June 21, 3:26 p.m.): State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Friday afternoon that his effort to unseat University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall is still very much alive in the last days of the session, and said he is confident he has the necessary support in the House. Aides to Gov. Rick Perry have been lobbying members to leave Hall in office, but Pitts said he's got the numbers right now.
Original story: The House's chief budget writer and a longstanding critic of the University of Texas System regents is attempting to launch impeachment proceedings against University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall.
House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, is working to pass a resolution to impeach Hall for alleged gross interference with the management of UT-Austin, Pitts' office confirmed.
Hall, who was appointed to the board in 2011, has generated controversy for making many broad records requests of the University of Texas at Austin administration, as well as for other matters, including failing to disclose some lawsuits on his initial application to be on the board. Pitts previously described Hall's efforts as "a witch hunt," implying that the regent was targeting UT-Austin President Bill Powers.
Lawmakers sent clear signals during the regular session that they wanted the alleged "witch hunts" to end.
A bill by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, that was filed in response to the activities of the current UT System board and passed the Legislature in the regular session would have added restrictions and training requirements for new regents. It was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints the regents.
Pitts did successfully insert language into the budget for the upcoming biennium that restricts UT regents' use of state appropriations.
However, if the intended message was telling the UT board members to curb their investigative tendencies, it went unheeded by Hall. Shortly after the regular session ended, Hall began asking for more information from the flagship university. Some of his fellow board members openly opposed what one of them described as Hall's "divisive actions."
Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Tribune. In May, when asked about legislators' attitude, he said, "I appreciate they have a job to do, and while they may not always understand our role, we are doing our best to fulfill our obligations to the students, our institutions and the people of Texas."
According to state statute, the impeachment process must begin in the Texas House. Pitts is currently attempting to acquire 76 signatures of support from his colleagues to move forward with the proceedings. If he is successful, the Senate must convene as a court of impeachment to settle the matter. A vote for removal would require at least two-thirds of the Senate.
The current 30-day special session is scheduled to end by Tuesday. Under Texas Government Code, lawmakers can start impeachment proceedings during the session and continue them once the session is over "through committee or agents."