Correction: Original article incorrectly identified the committee in which HB 1656 was being heard. The article has been corrected.

Bills moving through the Texas Legislature could force businesses to follow federal health guidelines concerning the coronavirus in order to receive liability protection from lawsuits.

The House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee heard House Bill 3659 by State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Plano) today. This is the companion bill to Senate Bill 6, which was passed by the Senate late last week and was a priority of both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.

The bill sets out to supposedly protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits by limiting the liability of certain people for injury, death, or property damage as a result of a pandemic or other emergency.

Former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a legal expert, took to Twitter to express his concerns, saying the bill would instead subject businesses to new government regulation.

“Many stakeholders didn’t have a say on this, like the thousands of small businesses who this bill would allow to be sued if they don’t follow Fauci’s every command. Why would we repeal state mandates then reimpose them under cover of nonexistent liability protection?”

 

He went on to say, “At the very least, any business that makes a good faith effort to substantially comply with state law, not CDC or DSHS “recommendations” and “protocols,” should be immune from suit. See, eg. Florida. HB 3659, in contrast, would allow businesses that don’t require masks to be sued.”

Leach said he is working to change the legislation before it is passed out of the committee, to address the issues raised by Rinaldi and others.

With the Senate version of the bill already passed from the upper chamber, it is unclear as to whether the House will choose to consider that version once HB 3659 passes out of committee and makes it to the House floor.

Other Related Bills

Notably, HB 1656 by State Rep. Jim Murphy (R–Houston) is also being heard today in the House State Affairs Committee. This bill seeks to codify the governor’s disputed authorities related to executive orders and ensure that the governor’s executive actions supersede orders given by local jurisdictions.

The issues of business liability protections and the further codification of disputed gubernatorial authorities were also included in the Texas Pandemic Response Act, which was heard more than a month ago in the House State Affairs Committee but left pending.