Bill Restricting Regents' Authority Re-emerges

The ongoing tension between Texas legislators and the University of Texas System Board of Regents looks likely to bleed into the 2015 legislative session.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, at Triblive on Dec. 6, 2012.

The ongoing tension between Texas legislators and the University of Texas System Board of Regents looks likely to bleed into the 2015 legislative session.

One lawmaker has already filed a bill reviving a 2013 effort to limit the power of regents who oversee Texas’ higher education institutions.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed Senate Bill 177, which is similar to a bill he wrote with 11 other senators last session that was aimed at reining in regents' power. Most notably, the bill includes a provision stating that regents cannot fire a university president without a recommendation from the chancellor.

Last session's bill came after lawmakers from both parties accused the UT System Board of Regents of attempting to push out University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers — and before they embarked on an impeachment probe into one of those regents. 

The 2013 legislation passed both the House and the Senate with limited opposition, but Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints the regents, vetoed the bill, calling it “a step in the wrong direction.” 

"History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance,” Perry said at the time. 

It's unclear where the incoming governor, Republican Greg Abbott, comes down on the legislation. Seliger said he is optimistic.

"I can’t answer for Gov. Abbott, but I think his view of legislation is going to be entirely different,” Seliger said. “I think it's a good piece of legislation based upon the fact that it passed and had a lot of support last time — I’m very optimistic." 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has also filed several bills ahead of the 2015 session related to regents, including Senate Bill 24, which would increase the orientation training for university system regents. Zaffirini was one of the 11 additional authors named on Seliger’s bill last session.

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