CM – Texas lawmakers responded to the pandemic by restricting the government’s ability to respond to a pandemic

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Legislators failed to curtail the governor’s power during a disaster, but they passed laws banning so-called vaccination passes and forbidding mandatory church closings and gun shops.

by Karen Brooks Harper

June 3, 202113 hours ago

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During a legislative session that culminates in January When the pandemic began in Texas, state lawmakers sent the governor a series of bills primarily aimed at protecting the rights of Texans against a state pandemic response that Conservative leaders believed was going too far.

The legislature has passed laws that, among other things, prohibit so-called vaccination passes and the compulsory closure of churches and arms shops during an emergency declaration.

« Let freedom ring! » State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, tweeted Sunday after lawmakers approved bills banning government agencies and companies from requiring proof of vaccination for products or services.

Legislators also passed laws that require that the state contracts with U.S. companies (rather than foreign companies) whenever possible, requiring the establishment of rules that allow clergy to visit patients during a public health emergency, allow long-term care visits to facility residents in emergencies and enables sick and dying COVID-19 patients to have a visit – and handles devastating reports from loved ones dying alone in hospitals while family members cannot say goodbye.

Many of these actions were a direct response to Orders from Governor Greg Abbott et al nter the direction of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials who imposed restrictions such as mask requirements, attendance restrictions, and school protocols to slow the spread of the virus.

In the ashes of the meeting that ended on Monday, lagging behind proposals that would have updated the state vaccination registry, established an emergency mass vaccination and distribution plan, prioritized first responders in the adoption of vaccines, and funded research on health equity issues to tackle racial inequalities in the system, exposed by the pandemic.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 150 bills and resolutions related to the pandemic have been tabled by lawmakers. About 20 of them passed.

Another notable victim of the controversial session, which was dominated by top Conservative priorities such as abortion and election restrictions, was the attempt to curtail the governor’s powers in the event of a disaster.

« The results That session was mixed, « said James Quintero, policy director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Some conservative victories, he said, included closing what he called a tax loophole that it cities allows you to exceed the national property tax increase limits during a disaster. He also welcomed a new law requiring public health orders to be regularly reviewed by local elected officials.

Quintero said lawmakers missed an opportunity to curb both state and local law enforcement violations of emergency orders to decriminalize and instead impose fines for violations and address some open government issues that emerged during the pandemic, including a measure that would have accelerated public information requests during quarantine, he said.

« We have some steps in this session Taken in the right direction, but there is clearly more to be done, « Quintero said.

Hospitals whose intensive care units were overcrowded with a surge in cases of COVID-19 patients welcomed the passage of Senate Law 6, which they protects against legal proceedings if during the P andemie acted in good faith.

“Hospitals have been on the front lines fighting the devastating effects of COVID-19, treating patients with surges and capacity limitations. They put themselves at risk while treating those in need, ”said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Hospital Association. The bill « does not protect bad actors who are reckless or who commit deliberate, willful, or willful misconduct. »

While the priorities of the Republican leadership have mainly focused on exempting Texans from state restrictions during disasters, lawmakers also passed Measures that addressed transparency and accountability regarding the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and future health emergencies or disasters.

« Legislators and the public have watched government agencies respond with comprehensive nationwide measures to to lessen the impact of the virus, ”Kolkhorst, who drafted some of the laws, said in a March statement. “Sometimes these actions have struggled to strike the right balance between public health and our individual rights. We now need to use last year’s experience to improve the state’s response to future health events. ”Kolkhorst Comprehensive Senate Act 968 creates the chief epidemiologist’s office within the Texas Department of State Health Services to respond to disease outbreaks to respond and coordinate with the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

It also forms a panel of experts, consisting of five doctors and four health care providers, tasked with making recommendations to the lead epidemiologist in the event of a declared emergency or disaster. </ And the bill also requires health officials to report on the successes and failures of the state's coronavirus response.

Legislators have also passed bills that address deficiencies in data collection systems between the state and health facilities. A flawed government computer system prevented efforts to track and manage the coronavirus in Texas in the early days of the pandemic, leaving policy makers with incomplete and sometimes inaccurate data on the spread of the virus.

A bill that does Allowing health and hospice service workers to administer the vaccine was also passed to address an issue that arose during the pandemic when elderly and frail Texans who were home-bound could not leave their homes to get to Vaccinated beginning of rollout.

Laws aimed at restricting the governor’s powers of emergency in the event of a disaster, an idea supported by both parties, fell victim to the power struggles between the House of Representatives and the Senate and was not passed .

Senate Act 1025 would have prohibited the governor from disaster relief to enact hires, close shops or restrict occupancy or hours of operation, and this power is reserved by the legislature. It died in a House Committee.

And a Senate bill that would have required the Governor to convene the Legislature in a special session to declare a state emergency lasting more than 30 days also died in a House Committee.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives’ primary legislation on the matter, House Bill 3, died in a conference committee after the two houses failed to settle differences. As passed by the lower chamber, the law would have given lawmakers more control over the governor’s emergency powers in the event of health emergencies.

House spokesman Dade Phelan said negotiations on this far-reaching bill had failed because of the idea that Call a special session to deal with any natural disaster declaration, not just a pandemic.

The Senate wanted wider boundaries for Abbott, while the House of Representatives felt it was going too far, Phelan told The Texas earlier this week Tribune.

« There is no need to hold a special session to talk about a hurricane, » said Phelan, whose district is on the Gulf Coast northeast of Galveston. “If you have a hurricane, you don’t have to be in Austin. I have to stand on the floor. ”

Disclosure: The National Conference of State Legislatures, the Texas Hospital Association, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation were financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization, partly funded by donations from Members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. A full list can be found here.

Updated: May 20, 2021

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