Two bills seeking to curtail perceived authorities by the Texas governor in times of disaster are moving through the process in the Texas Senate.
Contrasting Approaches Between Legislative Chambers
Almost immediately after being filed, the bills received support from 11 Republican and three Democrat members of the Senate (nearly half of the 31 members).
SB 1025 amends the Texas Government Code to make it clear that only the Legislature has the authority to suspend or make law in declared times of emergency. SJR 45 seeks to amend the Texas Constitution to allow any current legislator the ability to sue the governor in the Supreme Court of Texas at a time of disaster if the governor fails to convene the Legislature after a qualifying disaster or emergency declaration.
In contrast, the House of Representatives has several members who have filed bills related to emergency powers, but none have really moved through the legislative process so far.
State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) filed House Bill 2097 and House Bill 2098, which relate to mask mandate authority and the inability for citizens to be fined for not following emergency orders. State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands) filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a trigger for a special called legislative session in the event any statewide disaster declaration is extended beyond 30 days, while also barring any suspension of constitutionally protected rights.
Similarly, State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R–Odessa) filed a bill that would prohibit any disaster declaration from being renewed beyond 60 days if 75 percent or more of the state is affected without calling a special session. All of these bills have been referred to the House State Affairs Committee for a few weeks but have yet to have been granted any public hearings.
One exception is that of House Bill 3 by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock). Known as the Texas Pandemic Response Act, the bill initially merely codified disputed gubernatorial authority to a new section of code to issue “pandemic disasters.” After public outcry, a new version of the bill was laid out in a committee hearing on Thursday, March 11, which still did not address criticism that the bill did nothing to prohibit lockdowns, travel bans, mask mandates, or provide standing for anyone to challenge an illegal executive order in the judicial system.
Once heard, the bill was left pending in the House State Affairs Committee on March 11 and has not moved any further in the legislative process thus far.
Legislative Priorities of the Republican Party of Texas
Though not a legislative priority officially adopted by the convention body of the Republican Party of Texas, Texas GOP Chairman Allen West added his own priority to end executive overreach late in 2020.
West previously came out in support of the Senate’s approach to curtailing the governor’s disputed authorities and previous executive actions by saying the bills “ensure no Texas State executive, current or future, can define an emergency and suspend our rule of law, and individual rights, freedoms, and liberty.”
You can follow these bills on our tracker.
Both bills were voted out of committee favorably by a vote of 5 to 0. They will next be put on the Senate Intent Calendar and considered by the overall Senate.
What remains unclear is whether Abbott will be willing to rein in his own powers if any of the aforementioned bills make it through the entirety of the legislative process.