• Texas A&M senate passes bill allowing students to opt out of funding GLBT center

    The Texas A&M University student government passed a bill on Wednesday night aimed at allowing students to “opt out” of funding the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Resource Center on religious grounds.

    The A&M Student Senate passed the bill, entitled “The Religious Funding Exemption Bill,” by a vote of 35-28, according to Bryan-College Station newspaper The Eagle. Less than a day before the vote, the bill had been called the “GLBT Funding Opt Out Bill.”

    According to The Eagle, the bill was passed after three hours of emotional testimonies and debate. The crowd of students attending to debate the bill was large enough that an overflow viewing area was set up, and the meeting was postponed so administrators could clear paths to the exit.

    The senate website posted “The Religious Funding Exemption Bill” in its final and original versions and provided students with options they could use to voice opinions about the bill, including linking the students to a list of their senate representatives and a comment form.

    The bill was originally sponsored by senate member Chris Woolsey, a political science sophomore. The final version was co-sponsored by senate members Chris Russo, an aerospace engineering graduate student; Thomas McNutt, a political science senior; Austin Springer, an industrial engineering freshman; and Cary Cheshire, a political science junior.

    A&M student body president John Claybrook, a finance senior, told The Eagle he has not yet decided whether or not he will sign the bill.

    “A veto is always on the table,” Claybrook said.

    If signed, the legislation will be sent to the University’s president, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, A&M System chancellor John Sharp, A&M chief financial officer B. J. Crain and the members of the Texas A&M Board of Regents. A University spokesman told The Eagle administrators within A&M’s student affairs and finance divisions would have final say over any changes to the GLBT Resource Center’s budget.

     

  • UT System Regent Wallace Hall failed to disclose several past lawsuits during application process

    UT System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. failed to disclose his involvement in at least six past lawsuits in his December 2010 application to serve as a regent, according to documents obtained by The Texas Tribune.

    Hall, who has been vocal about his desire for more transparent leadership at UT, did not list six state and federal lawsuits on his application and did not mention them during the 2011 nomination process. 

    Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president, said its “a little hypocritical” for Hall to demand transparency from the University while not disclosing his personal information.

    “I think it’s another sign that we as students need to be continuously watching the actions of the regents,” Morton said. “It’s a little hypocritical of Hall to not disclose this information yet also be making all these data requests and be engaged in the micromanagement of the University. It’s a hypocritical action, and one I’m glad members of the legislature have already begun to speak out against.”

    Hall has made several efforts to increase UT administration’s transparency in the last several months, making far-reaching requests for boxes worth of open records. At a recent hearing about the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation, Hall defended the board’s decision to continue an external review of the foundation by saying the System continues to receive documents not included in his initial open records request. 

    System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to make a statement on behalf of the Board of Regents and said all questions should be forwarded to Hall.

  • Bill to limit boards of regents approved by committee, moves to full Senate

    The Senate Higher Education Committee voted 4-1 to move a bill before the Texas Senate that would limit the power of university boards of regents over individual institutions within a system.

    The bill, filed by committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would prevent regents from voting on personnel and budgetary matters without first undergoing ethics training and being confirmed by the Senate. It would also amend state law to delegate all powers not specifically prescribed to boards of regents to individual institutions.

    State Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, were not present for the vote.

    Seliger filed the bill in response to ongoing tension between the UT System Board of Regents and President William Powers Jr. Legislators have alleged that regents are micromanaging the University. 

    State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concerns that legislators are acting to handle one conflict.

    “I tried to look at this through the 30,000-foot view of how we are structurally changing the relationship between boards of regents and universities,” Birdwell said after the meeting. “You’re widening that moat that essentially makes it more difficult for the people to express their desires of how our institutions and systems that are public are governed from those executing that governance.”

    Regents are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate and serve six-year terms. Gov. Rick Perry appointed all nine of the current regents sitting on the UT System board.

    The committee adopted two amendments to the bill.

    One would require regents to receive training regarding the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as FERPA. The law is intended to give students the right to privacy of information regarding enrollment, grade performance and billing information unless they give permission to institutions to release that information.

    Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the vast amount of "vague" information requests regents have made of the University may inadvertently include information regarding students, which may violate the act and would result repercussions from law enforcement officials.

    Another amendment would prevent regents from voting before they are confirmed by the Senate Nominations Committee. If the committee does not meet within 45 days, regents will be allowed to vote if they have completed training required by law. As of now, the committee has not yet scheduled a hearing for newly appointed Regents Jeff Hildebrand and Ernest Aliseda. Perry appointed Hildebrand and Aliseda in February, along with reappointing Paul Foster, who serves as the board's vice chairman.

  • Festive weekend brings lower crime rate than past despite homicide

    A weekend that brings in tens of thousands of people to Austin from the around the state saw a decrease in crime rates from previous years, police say.

    UT hosted the 86th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays from Wednesday to Saturday at Mike A. Myers Stadium. The annual track meet showcases the top track athletes from across the state from high school, junior college, college and professional levels. According to a spokeswoman for the Austin Visitor Center, the event brought 40,000 people to the city this year.

    Police made a total of 22 arrests Friday and Saturday, a decrease from the 36 arrests made last year on the same days, Senior Police Officer Vaneza Bremner saidBremner said most of the arrests took place around downtown.

    Bremner listed public intoxication, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana and failure to obey lawful orders as the leading causes for arrests made throughout the weekend and in previous years. She also said one man was charged with interfering with a police animal.

    Early Sunday morning, a man was shot and killed near 11th and Trinity streets. Police say the shooting occurred after an "altercation between two groups of people." Police have yet to release the victim's name and do not have detailed descriptions of the suspects. The victim was pronounced dead at University Medical Center Brackenridge, and the police will hold a press conference Monday evening. As of now, there has been no stated connection between the shooting and the weekend's festivities.

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