Ken Paxton

A Travis County grand jury declined to indict UT System Regent Wallace Hall on Tuesday on charges of abuse of office, misuse of information and official oppression. However, it took the unusual step of issuing a report condemning Hall and calling for his removal.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Attorney General Ken Paxton said UT System regents do not have the authority to limit information requests Tuesday, in response to an appeal to Paxton by Regent Wallace Hall last month.

“Unless a state or federal law requires otherwise, a court would likely conclude that the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System may not prohibit an individual regent from obtaining access to records in the possession of the University that are necessary to fulfill his duties as a regent,” Paxton wrote, summarizing his statement.

On April 20, Hall sent an appeal to Paxton after Chancellor William McRaven Jr. denied his request for thousands of documents related an admissions investigation by Kroll Associates, Inc. The investigation found that President William Powers Jr. influenced the admission of a handful of students to UT but did not break any official University rules.

McRaven, unanimously backed by the other eight regents, voted to file a brief to the Attorney General’s office last Monday, reacting to Hall’s appeal. The brief contended that the Board could set some limitations on information requests by individual regent and that individual regents are not authorized to appeal to the attorney general in their official capacity, without consent of the Board.

In Paxton's response to Hall’s appeal, he did not require the Board grant Hall access to the documents, but he said access to records is needed for a regent to perform his or her duties.

“While a governmental body may adopt reasonable procedures with regard to the timing, copying, and process for review of records, a ‘governmental body cannot adopt a policy that prevents a member of the body from performing the duties of office,’” Paxton wrote, citing a 1999 Attorney General statement.

UT System chancellor William McRaven, center, and Daniel Sharphorn, general counsel and vice chancellor for the UT System, right, met with the Board of Regents on Monday.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor William McRaven sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Ken Paxton arguing that individual regents’ access to records can be subject to limitations in certain situations.

At a specially called meeting Monday morning, eight members of the board voted unanimously to file a brief with the AG’s office outlining the System’s official stance on regent information requests. The ninth regent, Wallace Hall, abstained from the vote.

System counsels filed the brief in response to an appeal Hall’s private attorney filed with Paxton on April 20. Hall’s attorney, Bill Aleshire, asked Paxton to formally provide advice on Hall’s request to review thousands of documents related to UT-Austin admissions and asked whether the Board or the Chancellor had the authority to prohibit Hall from obtaining copies of those records.

Hall is attempting to review the thousands of documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used in an independent investigation earlier this year. The Kroll report found President William Powers Jr. intervened in a handful of admissions cases, but concluded Powers did not violate any policies.

When Hall asked to review the Kroll documents, three regents, including Hall himself, voted to grant him access. Under Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” UT System employees must respond to information requests “without undue delay” if two or more regents vote in support of the request. 

However, McRaven told Hall that Hall’s requests ventured into independent “inquiry and investigation” and therefore would require a majority board vote for approval. In a terse email exchange, McRaven told Hall his requests for information go beyond “any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.”

“This current request for information … is detrimental to the overall well-being of the system,” McRaven wrote in an email to Hall. 

The brief filed Monday, which represented McRaven and the Board of Regents’ official position on Hall’s appeal, argued that Hall’s attorney did not have standing to seek formal advice from Paxton in the first place.

“An individual Regent is not authorized to seek an opinion of the Attorney General in his official capacity without the consent of the Board, nor may an individual Regent be represented in his official capacity by private counsel,” System lawyers wrote. “In addition, the Attorney General generally declines fact-finding and answering hypothetical questions, both of which would be required in answering the questions presented.”

Even if Paxton did agree to provide Hall advice, Hall’s requests for the documents should still be denied, according to the brief. System counsel said Regents’ Rules and federal laws exist to regulate individual regents’ access to records, especially when student privacy is a consideration.

“A Regent’s access to information is not ‘unfettered,’” the System counsel wrote. “Given the potential volume of a request for information by an individual member of the Board and the impact on workload priorities, it is inherently reasonable that the Regents’ Rules provide checks and balances.”

In his letter to Paxton, Hall’s attorney argued that Regents do have an unfettered right to agency records. 

“A regent is not a mere figurehead, passive servant of corporate management,” Aleshire wrote. “Other opinions of the Attorney General also demonstrate that a regent’s inherent right of access to the agency records is not subject to judgement of the other board members (or of the Chancellor).” 

After the meeting Monday, Regent Alex Cranberg, who originally voted to grant Hall access to the Kroll records, explained his vote in support of the brief to the AG.

“I certainly feel it’s very important to express the need for individual regents to have [the] capacity to ask hard questions, even as the majority of the board might feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think this response suggests that the regents don’t have that capacity,” Cranberg said. “[I believe the response suggests] merely that there might be some limits placed on what a regent might reasonably ask for.”

UT System Chancellor William McRaven, center, and Daniel Sharphorn, General Counsel and Vice Chancellor for the UT System, right, met with the Board of Regents on Monday morning to discuss Regent Wallace Hall's document request. The board voted to file a brief with the Texas Attorney General's Office regarding the request.

Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (3:34 p.m.): In a brief submitted on behalf of Chancellor William McRaven and the UT System Board of Regents, lawyers for the System asked the Attorney General to dismiss Regent Wallace Hall’s request for advice on Hall's disputed right to request thousands of admissions-related documents.

The nine-page brief comes after a two-hour meeting this morning when the Regents met with the Chancellor and the System’s legal advisers to determine their position on Hall’s request.

In the brief, Daniel Sharphorn, vice chancellor and general counsel for the UT System, and Francie Frederick, general counsel to the Board, argue that Hall did not have standing to seek formal advice from AG Ken Paxton in the first place.

“We respectfully suggest that the Attorney General consider the following...the request is not properly presented for formal advice from the Attorney General,” they wrote. “An individual Regent is not authorized to seek an opinion of the Attorney General in his official capacity without the consent of the Board, nor may an individual Regent be represented in his official capacity by private counsel. In addition, the Attorney General generally declines fact-finding and answering hypothetical questions, both of which would be required in answering the questions presented.”

Even if Paxton did agree to provide Hall advice, Hall’s requests for thousands of documents used in the admissions investigation should still be denied, they wrote.

“A Regent’s access to information is not ‘unfettered,’” Sharphorn and Frederick wrote. “Given the potential volume of a request for information by an individual member of the Board and the impact on workload priorities, it is inherently reasonable that the Regents’ Rules provide checks and balances.”

To read the full brief from Sharphorn and Frederick, scroll to the bottom of the story.

Original story: After more than two hours in executive session, the UT System Board of Regents voted to file a brief with the Texas Attorney General’s Office relating to Regent Wallace Hall's search for documents about UT-Austin admissions. UT System Chancellor William McRaven said the brief will be filed later today but declined to elaborate on its contents. 

Although the brief will address Hall’s appeal to Attorney General Ken Paxton for assistance in obtaining access to thousands of documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used in its independent investigation of UT-Austin admissions practices, board members also declined to address what the brief’s specific focus will be. The board voted to file the brief by a unanimous vote of eight, with Hall abstaining.

After the board reconvened in open session, Regent Alex Cranberg indicated the System brief will likely outline reasons Hall should not be granted the documents.

“I certainly feel it’s very important to express the need for individual regents to have [the] capacity to ask hard questions, even as the majority of the board might feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think this response suggests that the regents don’t have that capacity,” Cranberg said. “[I believe the response suggests] merely that there might be some limits placed on what a regent might reasonably ask for.”

Cranberg also alluded to concerns that some of the documents Hall is requesting might contain personal student information, protected under federal privacy laws.

“If anyone is asking, in effect, for the System to violate federal law, that should not be allowed to occur,” Cranberg said.

Hall began asking for this round of documents in early March, after the Kroll investigation concluded that President William Powers Jr. had exerted influence in the admissions of a handful of students but had not technically broken any rules. The investigation found that administrators at the University and within the UT System held “wildly divergent” attitudes about whether considering relationships between the University and high-ranking officials is an appropriate factor in the holistic review process.

After the results of the investigation were released, McRaven declined to take punitive action, although he said he would like to see admissions policies clarified going forward.

“There are a lot of thing we could do better, but, at the end of the day, no willful misconduct [occurred], and I found no criminal activity, and, therefore, I intend to take no disciplinary action,” McRaven said in February.

When Hall asked for the documents Kroll had used in the investigation, three regents, including Hall himself, voted to allow him access. Under Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” UT System employees must respond to information requests “without undue delay” if two or more regents vote in support of the request.

However, McRaven said Hall’s request fell under the category of “inquiry and investigation,” invoking another policy that would require a majority board vote for approval.

“I have no concerns about giving you information that is consistent with your regental needs to be better informed, i.e. how the admissions process works … that is what the board approved,” McRaven told Hall in a terse email exchange in April. “However, your twelve requests for information lead any reader to believe that you are further investigating the Kroll report, the Fisher litigation, Legislative compliance, all of which are perfectly acceptable for a board, if procedurally the majority of the board wants to undertake these new inquiries...If it is [a new inquiry], I have no problem with that, as long as the majority of the board approves.”

Hall responded by having his lawyer, Bill Aleshire, ask Paxton to address whether the board or the chancellor have the legal authority to prohibit regents from having access to copies of records they believes are necessary to fulfill regential duties.

“Regent Wallace Hall has concerns about corrupted processes at the University of Texas at Austin, most recently regarding student admissions practices,” Aleshire wrote to Paxton. “Other opinions of the Attorney General also demonstrate that a regent’s inherent right of access to [records] is not subject to the judgement of other board members (or of the Chancellor) as to whether they think the regent ‘needs’ that information.”

Read the brief the UT System counsel filed with the Attorney General's office here: 

Brief to Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor William McRaven...

UT System Regent Wallace Hall is continuing his investigation into the University’s admission practices.
Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

UT System Regent Wallace Hall is appealing to the attorney general to review student information, despite UT System Chancellor William McRaven’s admonition that Hall’s requests go “well beyond any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.”

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office earlier this week, Hall’s attorney asked Paxton to intervene after McRaven denied Hall access to requested material. Hall is seeking files used in an independent investigation into admission practices at the University.

In early March, Hall asked to be provided with the documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used to review admissions. The results of the investigation, released in February, found that UT President William Powers Jr. had exerted influence in the admission of a handful of students but concluded that no formal rules were broken. 

Three regents voted to support Hall’s requests, but the Chancellor said Hall would not be given the records unless the Board authorized such access by majority vote, according to the letter Hall’s lawyer sent Paxton, first obtained by the Texas Tribune.

“The Chancellor asserted that giving Regent Hall access to the Kroll records constituted reopening the investigation of student admissions practices or involved FERPA-protected records,” the email said. “The Chancellor decided that Regent Hall did not have an ‘educational purpose’ for reviewing the Kroll records that was sufficient in the Chancellor’s opinion.”

In the email, Hall’s lawyer, Bill Aleshire, asked the attorney general to consider two questions: whether the Board of Regents can prohibit a regent from obtaining access to records the regent believes are “necessary to review to fulfill his duties as a regent,” and whether the chancellor can do to the same.

Aleshire invoked Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” which says that UT System employees must respond to requests for information “without undue delay.” 

“For the purpose of a Board vote on this issue, the vote of any two or more Regents in support of the request is sufficient to direct that the request will be filled without delay,” the policy says.

Barbara Holthaus, UT System assistant general counsel, said there is an exception to FERPA rules called the university official exception. Under this exception, anyone employed by the University who needs access to the confidential information to perform a job may have access. 

Holthaus said any University official seeking access must have an educational purpose, and a person’s position or title does not immediately justify a request for confidential student information. 

“In the case of a regent or a chancellor or president, as long as the access they are requiring is pursuant to a legitimate educational purpose and it’s part of their duties, then they can have access to information that is subject to FERPA,” Holthaus said. “What we know under FERPA, though, is the mere fact that you have a position such as a chancellor or a president doesn’t mean that you get access to any information that you need.” 

In another email to Hall, McRaven further attempted to explain why he did not feel Hall’s requests met those criteria.

“I have no concerns about giving you information that is consistent with your regental needs to be better informed, i.e. how the admissions process works … that is what the board approved,” McRaven wrote. “However, your twelve requests for information lead any reader to believe that you are further investigating the Kroll report, the Fisher litigation, Legislative compliance, all of which are perfectly acceptable for a board, if procedurally the majority of the board wants to undertake these new inquiries. I remain willing to meet with you and provide you information as long as that information isn’t part of an additional inquiry. If it is, I have no problem with that, as long as the majority of the board approves.”

Suzanne Bryant (left) and Sarah Goodfriend hold up their marriage license after a press conference on Thursday afternoon. They became the first same-sex couple to marry in Texas on Thursday morning.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Supreme Court’s stay on the state’s same-sex marriage ban may remain in effect until the expected Supreme Court ruling this summer, according to Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information at the Texas Supreme Court.

“Somebody is going to rule on this, and it’s the U.S. Supreme Court, definitively, in three months,” McCarthy said. “So what the court has done is say, ‘Stop. Nobody move.’”

On Thursday, Travis County Judge David Wahlberg issued a single marriage license to Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend. The two were granted the license and married, making them the first same-sex couple to marry in Texas.

The Texas Supreme Court issued a stay Thursday in response to a request by Attorney General Ken Paxton, halting all further same-sex marriages in the state. The stay did not include an end date, but it will presumably end with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this summer. 

Courts issuing a stay are not required to provide an end date, according UT law professor F. Scott McCown.

“[The stay] would just be [over] when the court made its decision,” McCown said. 

Paxton submitted a petition Friday to the Texas Supreme Court asking that the court overturn Wahlberg’s ruling, potentially voiding Bryant and Goodfriend’s marriage. 

The couple’s attorney, Chuck Herring, said in a previous interview that Paxton’s petition will not successfully end the marriage since the marriage has already occurred.

“We all know the U.S. Supreme Court is the court that is going to decide any remaining issues concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriage prohibition,” Herring said.

While McCarthy does not know if the petition can revoke the marriage, he said he thinks Paxton’s filing not be successful. 

“I believe the Attorney General believes this petition would invalidate that marriage license,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know if his mandamus petition really goes that far.” 

There are no immediate legal ramifications with Paxton’s opposition to Bryant and Goodfriend’s marriage, McCarthy said. 

“Down the long term, maybe,” McCarthy said. “Let’s say one dies, and the other comes in and says, ‘I am the person who inherits from my spouse,’ and someone else jumps in and says this is not a valid marriage.”

Rogelio Meza, Queer Student Alliance co-director and microbiology junior, said he agrees with McCarthy’s assessment. He said he thinks Texas’ Supreme Court will not legalize same-sex marriage independently. He thinks the decision to permit same-sex marriage will depend on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer. 

“I’m very disappointed, yet, not surprised at Texas trying to stop same-sex marriage here in the state,” Meza said. “A couple already got married. Nothing happened. The world didn’t explode. I feel Texas is trying to hold on to that conservative ideal.” 

Marisa Kent, QSA co-director and marketing junior, said she was also not surprised by the ruling.

“It was a little frustrating because the ruling [allowing the marriage] was made for a specific reason, and for them to change the decision and say nothing is going to change until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision is frustrating,” Kent said. “It’s something that I knew the Texas government would do without any afterthought.”

Suzanne Bryant, left, and Sarah Goodfriend celebrate after being granted a marriage license Thursday morning at Highland Lounge.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the state Supreme Court on Friday to declare a single marriage license issued to one same-sex couple invalid. 

Paxton asked the Supreme Court to act after Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant married Thursday, becoming the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Texas. Hours after the ceremony, the Texas Supreme Court, at Paxton’s request, issued a stay that prevented future same-sex couples in Texas from marrying.

“The rogue actions of Travis County judges do not withstand the scrutiny of law,” Paxton said in a statement Friday. “The same-sex marriage license issued [Thursday] is not valid because it conflicts with the Texas Constitution and state law — the license is therefore void ab initio.”

Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Mongolia) also worked to prevent same-sex marriage licenses from being issued Friday. The two lawmakers filed legislation Friday in the House and Senate that would make the secretary of state the only official who would be allowed to issue marriage licenses. Currently, couples can obtain marriage licenses from individual county clerks’ offices.

Under the proposed legislation, the secretary of state would maintain the right to authorize certain county clerks to continue the issuance of marriage licenses under the secretary’s supervision.

Perry said in a statement Friday that his bill will work to protect marriage as defined in the Texas Constitution: “the union of one man and one woman.”

“Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution,” Perry said in a statement. “SB 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

Chuck Herring, the couple’s attorney, said state officials’ attempts to alter government procedures for obtaining marriage licenses will not ultimately prevent same-sex marriages.

“It’s obviously punitive and retaliatory and it makes no sense to change the system of government we have in Texas, including local control and local authority,” Herring said. “We all know the U.S. Supreme Court is the court that is going to decide any remaining issues concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriage prohibition.”

Paxton’s filing is without merit and will not effectively void the couple’s marriage, according to Herring.

“We think it is a backdoor attempt to attack the validity of a marriage that has already occurred,” Herring said. “The case is over. The marriage is over and done. Our clients are married and very happy.”

Sarah Goodfriend (left) and Suzanne Bryant celebrate their marriage at The Highland Club on Thursday evening. A public celebration centered around the couple, who obtained Texas’ first same-sex marriage license.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

The couple exchanged vows in front of their children and had an official Texas marriage license in hand — but for several hours Thursday afternoon, it was unclear whether Austin residents Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend were actually married, after all. 

Bryant and Goodfriend, who have been together for three decades, became the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Texas on Thursday morning. For now, they will remain the only same-sex couple to have done so. Thursday afternoon, the Texas Supreme Court issued a stay at the request of Attorney General Ken Paxton that prevented other same-sex marriage licenses in the state.

Watch footage from the couple's evening wedding reception:

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir granted the marriage license under the order of state district judge David Wahlberg. The Travis County Court issued the license because Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last May. There was some confusion throughout the day about whether the license would remain valid after the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to issue the stay. 

Bryant and Goodfriend’s marriage is still valid, according to Chuck Herring, the couple’s attorney.

“The Supreme Court issued a stay order, but, in our view, it has no practical effect because we already obtained the relief,” Herring said. “We don’t want further action. The clients are married, and it’s over.”

A celebration occurred in honor of Goodfriend and Bryant's marriage at The Highland Club on Thursday evening. Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Paxton said today’s marriage of Bryant and Goodfriend went against Texas law, making it invalid, according to a report in the Austin-American Statesman.

“The law of Texas has not changed and will not change due to the whims of any individual judge or county clerk operating on their own capacity anywhere in Texas,” Paxton said. “Activist judges don’t change Texas law, and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state and will ensure that any licenses issued contrary to law are invalid.”

Herring said Paxton threatened to file a lawsuit to invalidate the marriage, but Paxton has not announced concrete plans to move forward. 

“Does he file a new lawsuit?” Herring said. “Sue a woman with ovarian cancer? What does he file? That’s the question, and he’s not answering that question. All he’s doing is making public statements that he’s unhappy and doesn’t like same-sex people getting married. That’s interesting, but he needs to come up with a legal procedure.”

Travis County Democratic Party Chair Jan Soifer opens Bryant and Goodfriend's party at The Highland Club on Thursday evening. Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said he cannot think of anyone with the power to invalidate the couple’s marriage.

“My understanding is the marriage was already completed before the Supreme Court, so I don’t know who would have legal standing to challenge this marriage,” Doggett said. “It’s amazing the machinations people will go through to prevent the commitment of three decades from being recognized.”

Goodfriend said the battle for marriage equality is an essential Texan issue.

“In Texas, we really believe in personal responsibility and personal freedom, and the freedom to marry is the ultimate exercise of personal freedom,” Goodfriend said. “When a loving committed couple like Suzanne and I, and all the other couples — when the marriage is recognized, it only makes Texas stronger.”

Goodfriend and Bryant share a kiss in front of supporters at The Highland Club on Thursday evening. Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Suzanne Bryant (left) and Sarah Goodfriend hold up their marriage license after a press conference on Thursday afternoon. They became the first same-sex couple to marry in Texas on Thursday morning.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant were married Thursday morning in Austin. They are the first same-sex couple to get married in the state of Texas. They were married as a result of a court order issued by State District Judge David Wahlberg in reaction to the news of Goodfriend’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer. But now that the Texas Supreme Court has stayed all future such marriages, much remains in doubt. Still, we hope that this is just the first of many same-sex marriages in Texas.

The tide is turning as more and more states are lifting bans on same-sex marriage, either by popular initative or by court order. Gay marriage is currently legal in 37 states. In 2012, only eight states allowed marriage between same-sex partners. Although the  marriage was performed under special circumstances and the county clerk’s office has no intention of issuing more same-sex marriage licenses except under court order, the fact remains that a gay couple were legally married in a red state where bans on “sodomy” are still in place in the state penal code. We hope progress in the courts will not make this a one-time occurrence. 

Predictably, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has requested a reaffirmation of the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages from the Texas Supreme Court in response to a probate judge ruling the ban on such marriages unconstitutional. In addition to the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday, Paxton hopes to reverse progress by having Goodfriend and Bryant’s marriage voided, a move that had not been successful as of our Thursday deadline. But while Paxton’s political pandering, and the Supreme Court’s acquiescence, may play well with the religious right, he clearly hasn’t considered the concerns of the morally right. 

Goodfriend and Bryant’s unbridled joy after their marriage is evident in the pictures and video released from the event. These two women love each other, have raised two daughters and are now fighting cancer together. Their passion and dedication reflect an ideal of marriage that any couple, gay or straight, would strive for. The opposition needs to move beyond the shallow consideration of gender and ask itself what it thinks marriage is truly about. This couple fits the bill. 

Paxton and those opposing this long overdue marriage are operating on the basis of their hidebound ideals. Their idea of small government ironically includes managing the personal lives of their constituents based on personal beliefs and revulsions. It is time to catch up with the rest of the nation and allow these couples to marry because they deserve the benefits that come with marriage, especially in situations like Goodfriend and Bryant’s. Let them remain married and make it so others can do the same.

Undocumented students may once again battle for the right to an affordable higher education if three Texas Legislative hopefuls capture seats at the Capitol in November.

Kelly Hancock (R-Fort Worth), Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Ken Paxton (R-McKinney), three state representatives vying for re-election to seats in the Texas Legislature, told The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith Thursday they oppose offering undocumented students in-state tuition rates. UT’s approximately 600 undocumented students currently pay in-state tuition through Texas’ DREAM Act, signed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2001.

Hancock, who currently serves in the Texas House of Representatives, said he would vote against in-state tuition for undocumented students. In order to qualify for in-state tuition rates in Texas, students must have lived in Texas for at least three years, graduated from a Texas high school, signed an affidavit promising to apply for citizenship and be pursing a degree. Hancock also said a parent’s illegal acts impacts their children.

“It’s a supply and demand issue,” Hancock said in the interview. “My difficulty is condoning illegal activity and putting a stamp of approval on it.”

Mechanical engineering senior Javier Huamani is undocumented and part of UT’s University Leadership Initiative, a student-run organization that promotes education for undocumented students on the UT campus. ULI formed in 2005 and has partnered with local, state and national organizations in support of the federal DREAM Act.

The act, which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, would grant citizenship to undocumented students if they display good moral character, are working toward a college degree or are serving in the U.S. military.

“The fact of the matter is children like me that were brought here not by choice were victims of circumstance,” Huamani said. “I would never blame my parents. They believed I should have a better life and a better future.”

Citizenship aside, Huamani says he considers Texas his home.

“If you did not ask me if I was undocumented, you would never know,” Huamani said. “I go to class, I study hard, I am messy in my room, I am an engineer, I like to play music. Essentially, I am an individual.”

Paxton, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2002, said the limited funding Texas has to allocate to education should go to citizens first.

“I would love it if we could pay for college education for anyone in the world that wanted to come to Texas, whether they are from Mexico or Europe or Japan,” Paxton said in the interview. “It is not that I do not care about those children, it is because we only have so many dollars.”

Teri Albrecht, the director of International Student and Scholar Services at UT, said any student should be able to gain the skills they need for their chosen profession. She said undocumented families who have established residency in Texas pay taxes and live here like any other citizen, and providing them with adequate education helps the state’s economy.

“My experience with undocumented students is that they are in these professions that are giving back to society,” Albrecht said. “When we oppress people to the point that they can not have skilled jobs, or even hold jobs, we are creating a level of people that are not allowed to further themselves.”

Taylor, a Texas Representative since 2003, said undocumented students’ tuition rates are a small component of a bigger issue.

“We have a broken immigration system in this country,” Taylor said in the interview. “We need a system where people can work, but we have to know who they are.”

Hancock, Taylor and Paxton did not return requests for comment. The 2013 Legislative session begins Jan. 8, 2013.

The race for Texas House Speaker grew more complicated when Rep. Ken Paxton threw his hat into a ring already occupied by current Speaker Rep. Joe Straus and Rep. Warren Chisum.

A conservative Republican from North Texas who’s affiliated himself with the tea party, Paxton told other Texas representatives in a letter that voting for his candidacy offers the best chance to enact a conservative agenda.

In a statement Paxton, R-McKinney, released Thursday morning, he promised to pass “true immigration reform,” a voter ID bill and to “reclaim our state sovereignty.”

“It’s not surprising to me,” said Sherri Greenberg, a lecturer at the LBJ School for Public Affairs and a former member of the Texas Legislature. “I have expected, ever since election night, that a Republican other than Rep. Chisum would get in the race.”

Paxton’s candidacy received a boost Friday, when Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, announced he was withdrawing his support of Straus, R-San Antonio, and endorsing Paxton instead.

In response, 18 Republican Texas House committee chairmen wrote a letter endorsing Straus and said if Straus remained speaker, the House would pass legislation that is important to conservative activists.

“We have an ally on all these issues in Speaker Straus,” they wrote. “We have found him to be a staunch fiscal conservative in the model of President [Ronald] Reagan, whom he once served in Washington.”

Tensions in the race between Straus and Chisum, R-Pampa, erupted Wednesday when Chisum called on the current speaker to release everyone who had already pledged their support to him. Chisum claimed several Republican representatives that signed pledge cards for Straus after the speaker made significant donations to their campaigns created the appearance of impropriety.

“The exchange has the unfortunate effect of creating the perception that leaves members trading votes for campaign donations,” Chisum said in a statement. “Personally, I don’t think the members did that. But there is no denying the perception is there.”

Straus responded with a letter assailing Chisum’s claims of vote buying and said the challenge to his speakership was dividing the Texas House Republican caucus.

“Have you no shame?” Straus wrote. “At a time when we should be celebrating the historic Republican gains of the recent election and focusing on the business of the state, you have instead engaged in a campaign of distortions and attacks that have subjected the membership to a constant strain of negativity.”