Proposed state legislation that would preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course, which occupies 141 acres of University of Texas-owned land in West Austin, is “on life-support,” its House sponsor said Wednesday.
Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, made the remark in an interview with the American-Statesman after a House Land and Resource Management Committee hearing on Senate Bill 822, which was approved a month ago by the upper chamber. He noted that Saturday is the last day Senate bills can be voted out of House committees, but he said Friday is a more realistic deadline in light of the crush of work in the waning days of the legislative session.
“Even then, bills this late are on life-support,” Larson said, adding that he believes the measure would be supported by a majority of the House panel’s members if a vote were taken. The bill was left pending Wednesday.
The city of Austin has operated the course, popularly known as Muny, under a lease from UT for decades, but the UT Board of Regents has in recent years contemplated leasing the parcel for a mixed-use development to generate more revenue for the Austin flagship campus.
The Senate-approved version of SB 822, authored by Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would transfer Muny to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Larson’s substitute version under consideration by the House panel would require UT to keep Muny as a golf course and would transfer it to the state parks agency only if the university failed to abide by that directive.
Mayor Steve Adler and UT President Gregory L. Fenves expressed optimism at the hearing that an agreement could be reached to preserve the course and allow the university to realize enhanced value from some of its other real estate holdings — including other parts of the Brackenridge tract where Muny is located — at a time of declining state funding for higher education.
But Adler and Fenves don’t see eye-to-eye on SB 822, with the former supporting it and the latter decidedly cool toward it.
Leaders will be judged 100 years from now by “how we rose to this occasion,” Adler said. “This is special, iconic land and we think the use should reflect that forever.” Fenves said he was “tremendously concerned” about the potential loss of university-owned land without compensation, arguing that such an occurrence would discourage future donations. The land was given to UT in 1910 by George Brackenridge, a long-serving regent.
Save Muny, a group whose name sums up its mission, has long argued that preservation of the course is warranted to protect green space and golfing opportunities, but the cause took on added urgency when leaders of the group and scholars determined that Muny was one of the first municipal courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated, if not the first to achieve that distinction.
That finding led to its listing in the National Register of Historic Places. A Texas Historical Commission marker also notes its integration in the early 1950s. And, as Larson noted, many black legislators want Muny preserved in recognition of that civil rights history.
Meanwhile, the House Higher Education Committee held hearings but took no action on two Senate-approved measures dealing with tuition at UT and three dozen other public universities. SB 18 would repeal a state law that requires a portion of tuition increases to be set aside for need-based student financial aid, while SB 19 would freeze tuition and fees at current levels for the next two academic years and sharply restrict the ability of governing boards to raise it after that.
Judging by the comments of committee members, those bills don’t seem likely to advance. “I’m hopeful that this legislation won’t go anywhere,” Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said of SB 19.
The Higher Education Committee also left pending SB 576, which would require university employees and officers of student organizations to report incidents of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence and stalking. Failure to do so would subject employees to criminal charges and student officers to expulsion, and those provisions make the Senate-passed measure’s chances uncertain in the House. A less harsh approach, House Bill 16, cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday and seems to have brighter prospects.