Update: The original article indicated that SB6 would be heard on Friday, 5/21 by the overall House of Representatives. Due to the House going into recess until Sunday, 5/23 the article has been updated to reflect that as the soonest the bill can be brought up for consideration by the House.
Legislation designed to protect businesses from frivolous COVID-related lawsuits is set to be heard in the Texas House on Sunday.
But opponents have said the bill could ultimately codify federal health recommendations, such as double-masking.
The Senate Pandemic Liability Protection Act passed the Senate on April 8.
Former state representative and legal expert Matt Rinaldi took to Twitter to express his ongoing concerns with the bill, saying it “may be the worst bill this session and is certainly the worst COVID bill. Effectively writes all CDC recommendations and guidance into law by reference.”
The bill’s sponsor in the House, State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Allen), took issue with Rinaldi’s assessment.
Notably, a few weeks back, Leach indicated he was working to change the legislation before it passed out of committee, to address the issues raised by Rinaldi and others on the House version of the bill.
Leach brought this up by indicating Rinaldi had helped him write the new language in the current revision of the bill. Rinaldi went on to reply, “By ‘helped’, I’m assuming you mean ‘provided input you ignored after you spoke with lobbyists.’ You are a lawyer. You know what this language does.”
In February, Gov. Greg Abbott announced business liability protections from COVID-related lawsuits as one of his emergency legislative priorities. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick followed suit, announcing Senate Bill 6 as one of his legislative priorities only a few weeks later.
The bill is authored by State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills). When it passed the Senate, it included provisions that could subject private businesses to mandates by federal government entities like the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The House version of the bill, authored by Leach, was left pending in the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, where it ultimately died due to the House calendar deadlines. Notably, that version also subjected businesses to new government regulations.
The Center of the Dispute
The current version of the bill does seem to include language that bolsters Rinaldi’s claim.
The House was originally scheduled to take up the bill on Friday, May 21 but because it abruptly recessed until Sunday, May 23 at 1 p.m. that is the soonest it has the availability to be brought up for consideration on the calendar.