Trey Martinez Fischer

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) submitted an amendment to the House budget which would place university organizations, including fraternities, under close watch. 

The amendment — which applies to all student groups but singles out sororities, fraternities and athletic teams — would require universities to report on- and off-campus cases of gender, ethnic or racial discrimination to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, a multi-faceted state board that oversees state university operations.  

The Board would collect any information regarding occurrences of discrimination universities report and relay the findings to the legislature. 

The amendment is a response to nationwide cases of racial discrimination by fraternities, according to a report by The Texas Tribune.

The House is set to start their discussion on the proposed House budget Tuesday. 

Although the University cannot comment on specific pieces of legislation, University spokesperson Gary Susswein said officials support a welcoming campus.

“As with all legislation that could impact the University, we will review it closely,” Susswein said. “And I just also want to emphasize that, in general, the University works to make the campus as welcoming and supportive of an environment for all of our students as it can be.” 

Lee Lueder, Interfraternity Council president, said he does not know how effective the amendment will be. He said its impact would depend on what it does with the collected information after universities have reported it. 

Nationally, fraternities have been facing scrutiny for racial discrimination in the past months. 

UT’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, known as “FIJI,” hosted a “border control” themed party at an off-campus fraternity house in January. At the party, many attendees donned sombreros and ponchos. The University did not penalize the fraternity. 

“While the behavior doesn’t mirror UT core values, it’s within students’ right to freedom of speech at private off-campus event,” the University tweeted from the official UT-Austin Twitter account in February.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon stirred national controversy when members were recorded participating in chants containing racial slurs while traveling on a bus.  

Lueder said he thinks it is fair that the policy be enforced both on- or off-campus. 

“All of these organizations are registered with the University — are University organizations, so at least pertaining to sororities and fraternities,”Lueder said. “So I think it’s only fair that [the policy] be for all registered student organizations, whether it be … on- or off-campus.”

Rep. Martinez Fischer could not be reached for a comment.

After being denied access to interviews relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he is concerned the investigation may focus on President William Powers Jr.

At a special meeting last week, the UT System Board of Regents denied a request from Larson and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll Associates, Inc., the risk mitigation response firm leading the investigation that will look at outside influence over the admissions process. Martinez Fischer and Larson, both members of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, were assigned to monitor the System by the committee’s co-chairs in August, after the committee’s censure of Regent Wallace Hall. 

Larson, who also expressed his concerns to the board in a Sept. 18 letter, said he wanted to sit in on the interviews conducted by Kroll to ensure that System officials and regents were also being investigated. 

“I wanted to make sure that we had a holistic investigation, and it wasn’t targeted specifically at President Powers,” Larson said. “It’s unfortunate that President Powers has been subjected to the pettiness of the regents. I hope that when the new chancellor comes in, we can put this behind us.”

Larson said he has heard of regents asking System staff members to go to the UT admissions office and request that certain students be considered for admission into the University.

“They typically ask a staff member to go over and request a consideration that the student be admitted to UT-Austin,” Larson said. “I’ve been told by System staff that’s how they handle it.”

Records first obtained by The Texas Tribune show Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa — who commissioned the Kroll Associates investigation in June — has forwarded letters of recommendation, including those from state legislators, to Powers since he became chancellor in 2009. Cigarroa said at a board meeting in May that letters not sent through the prescribed process should no longer be considered in admissions decisions, and the regents formally approved the change in July.

The System began conducting its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his requests for University records. In May, the System announced the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing, but it did determine letters of recommendation sent by legislators to Powers or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

Martinez Fischer said the board’s denial of the request makes it clear there is a level of disconnect between the UT System and the role of the legislative branch.

“I think time will certainly tell whether the UT System is following the laws that every other Texas agency is required to follow,” Martinez Fischer said. 

The United States Supreme Court approved a temporary map for Texas congressional districts Wednesday after ruling the original map drawn by the Texas Legislature unfairly grouped minority populations to minimize their influence.

A lower federal court drew the new map, which will only be used for the 2012 elections. The Legislature draws new district maps every 10 years based on census data, and Texas added four new seats in Congress after the 2010 census. Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said the federal court’s interim map is not perfect, but the time before the Nov. 6 election does not allow for another redrawing.

“While we’re not entirely comfortable with the interim map because we know that the map is going to get better for minorities, we have to recognize that the election cycle is just around the corner,” Fischer said.

He said stalling preparations for the election while congressional districts are redrawn again would disenfranchise voters. It was important to make sure county officials have time to get ballots out, Fischer said. The League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino rights group, asked the Supreme Court to review the interim map. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus did not submit an official position on the Supreme Court case, Fischer said. He said the caucus decided it would be more prudent to work with the federal court to produce a remedy map after November.

Fischer said congressional district 25, in southern Travis County, was one of the districts the Supreme Court originally identified as discriminatory. He said he hopes this district will be redrawn on the map that will be adopted and used after the 2012 elections.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett, the Democratic incumbent for district 25, said he is pleased the Supreme Court did not further disrupt the election process in Texas.

“The Supreme Court has already interfered in our elections once too often this year,” Doggett said. “The only appeal that I personally am making is to the voters along the I-35 corridor.”

Doggett, a former UT student body president, said he encourages his fellow Longhorns to vote.

Chris Elam, a Republican Party of Texas spokesperson, said the state would have been plunged into chaos if the Supreme Court had postponed the election to allow more time to redraw the map. Elam said the efforts from Democrats and left-leaning organizations to appeal congressional maps has only caused confusion for voters.

“They feel that these maps are discriminatory, and we feel that they are not,” Elam said. “We’re grateful that the elections can move forward as planned and reject the argument that these elections would have needed to be delayed.”

Two Mexican-American Democratic lawmakers launched a new political action committee (PAC) on Thursday to mobilize Hispanic voters in Texas.

State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Ana Hernandez Luna unveiled the One Texas PAC, with Martinez Fisher pledging to match the first $50,000 in donations.

The PAC will concentrate on supporting Hispanic candidates for the Texas Legislature, engaging Hispanic voters and mobilizing them in districts where they can make a difference in an election’s outcome, Martinez Fischer told The Associated Press. The group’s strategy of directly engaging voters sets it apart from other advocacy groups, he added.

“I want to talk to people because I believe if they understand what we stand for, they will realize there are people fighting for them,” said Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas Legislature.

Non-Hispanic whites make up less than half of the state’s population, and Hispanics are the fastest growing group in Texas. Both Democrats and Republicans are trying to recruit more Hispanics into their ranks, but Hispanic voters in Texas go to the polls in small numbers compared to their population’s size and compared to other states. For example, eligible Hispanic voters in Texas turnout at half the rate of Hispanics in California.

Martinez Fisher said the new PAC hopes to get out the Hispanic vote by pointing out the stake they hold in Texas’ future. Demographers expect them to be the majority by 2020.

“Texas is running out of water and energy, our roads are deteriorating, and the next generation of Texans who have to face this reality will be less educated and in poor health,” Fischer said. “Apparently, our alleged pro-business Republicans think it is more important to attend tea-party rallies than confront this reality. One Texas will change that.”

Gov. Rick Perry has led efforts to make the Republican Party more attractive to Hispanics. He appointed the first Hispanic female to the Texas Supreme Court and the first Hispanic ever as secretary of state. He has welcomed many Hispanic politicians who defected from the Democratic Party, including state Rep. J.M. Lozano who is running for re-election in South Texas.

Hispanics have traditionally voted Democratic in Texas since the 1960s, but Republicans hope that the party’s social conservatism will attract more Hispanics in the future.