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Posted: Feb 18, 2013 5:30 PM

Updated: Feb 18, 2013 5:30 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gave an emotional defense of embattled University of Texas President Bill Powers on Monday, accusing members of the school's board of regents of engaging in "character assassination" in efforts to force Powers out.

"You leave your family out of it," Dewhurst said, declining to give details other than to report an anonymous letter being distributed within the University of Texas System Board of Regents. "I am really mad."

Dewhurst's comments came following numerous speeches complimenting Powers and a unanimous resolution from the entire Senate praising his administration of the university.

The outpouring of support comes during an ongoing dispute between the University of Texas and former women's track coach Bev Kearney, who was suspended in 2012, then fired in January after a former student-athlete reported having an inappropriate relationship with her in 2002.

Kearney's attorney, Derek Howard, has said Kearney was not treated the same as other university employees. Earlier this month, the university disclosed that current assistant football coach Major Applewhite was reprimanded but not fired for having inappropriate contact with a student trainer on a football bowl trip in 2008. The school was moving to fire Kearney when she resigned and Howard has suggested Kearney may sue for discrimination.

Powers met his wife Kim, who was a student at the University of Texas law school while he was a professor. They married after she graduated in 1981 and have three children together.

Powers declined to comment afterward on Dewhurst's remarks of character assassination.

"I enjoyed the ceremony and I want to leave it at that," Powers said.

Powers is believed to have a slim majority of support among the regents, who are appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. Three members have their terms expire this year.

Dewhurst criticized the regents for discussing Power's family.

"Don't get involved in making attacks on spouses, family and staff. That's a low blow and that's beneath, I think, the code of decency," Dewhurst said.

Several senators who spoke publicly in support of Powers said later they were unaware of the personal attacks mentioned by Dewhurst. But Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the Senate, which holds confirmation power over Perry's appointees, clearly supports Powers.

"Today was a demonstration of how we feel about him," West said.

Some lawmakers were willing to point directly to Perry's office on efforts to oust Powers.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and chair of the Senate Committee on higher education, said the responsibility for the actions of the regents ultimately belongs to Gov. Rick Perry.

"He appoints them, and quite frankly he directs the activities of the people he appoints," Seliger said. "I'm not going to make an accusation, but it looks how it looks."

A regent's spokeswoman said the board had no immediate comment. A Perry spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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SENATE COMMITTEE OKS BOARD OF EDUCATION CHAIRWOMAN

Barbara Cargill's nomination for a second term as chairwoman of the State Board of Education is headed to the full Texas Senate for consideration.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Cargill in 2011, but the Senate wasn't in session. Now Perry has reappointed her, and the Nomination Committee voted Monday to refer it to the full chamber.

The Senate voted to reject board chairs in 2007 and 2009. But Monday's vote makes Cargill's confirmation more likely.

A Republican from The Woodlands and ex-biology teacher, Cargill has voted to require that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in Texas schools.

The board's fight over evolution and intelligent design in science curriculum made national headlines in 2009. That's when it adopted standards encouraging public schools to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theory.

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FUNDS FOR SEX PREDATOR CASES CLEAR HURDLE

Lawmakers have approved a measure that would pay for more expert testimony to help keep violent sex offenders off the streets.

The proposal gained support from a House Appropriations Sub-committee on Monday and would provide $128,000 to hire a second expert witness in complex cases.

Lawmakers were told that each year the Judiciary Section of the Comptroller's Department seeks the civil commitment of approximately 50 sex offenders after their prison sentences expire. The funds would provide a second witness in about 17 of those cases.

Budget analysts said for example that both a psychologist and a psychiatrist could be called to testify. The subcommittee chairman, Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner turned down a raft of other proposals to increase funds for staffing at criminal justice agencies.

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PATRICK BILL SEEKS TO LIFT CHARTER SCHOOL CAP

The head of the Texas Senate Education Committee has filed a bill lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate statewide, and authorizing them to receive public facilities funding.

Current state law restricts to 215 the number of charter school licenses. But Sen. Dan Patrick's measure would allow an unlimited number of charters.

Charter schools already receive state funding for operations and educate about 135,000 of Texas' more than 5 million public school students. But operators say that another 100,000 students are on waitlists to attend charter schools.

Meanwhile, state rules prohibit charter schools from receiving state funding for facilities, or from seeking taxpayer permission to issue bonds for school construction like traditional public schools. Patrick's bill also seeks to change that.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"Don't get involved in making attacks on spouses, family and staff. That's a low blow and that's beneath, I think, the code of decency." Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on a letter circulating among regents about U.T. Austin President Bill Powers.

Topics: Capitol Almanac

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