Five Republican lawmakers in Texas are taking Gov. Greg Abbott to court, suing the governor over his decision to ink a $295 million, 27-month agreement with tech company MTX Group to bring coronavirus contact tracing to Texas.
The term “contact tracing” refers to a process where researchers attempt to identify everyone a confirmed carrier of the Chinese coronavirus may have come into contact with. Those potentially exposed are then reported to public health authorities and encouraged to get tested or be quarantined.
In May, the state government entered an agreement with Frisco-based company MTX Group to operate call centers, with thousands of agents dispatched to follow up with those who may have come into contact with those possibly exposed to the virus. The contract called for hiring 4,500 call center agents over seven months, though MTX says it can source “well beyond 5,000 agents if required.”
Republican State Reps. Kyle Biedermann (Fredericksburg), Mike Lang (Granbury), Bill Zedler (Arlington), Steve Toth (The Woodlands), and State Sen. Bob Hall (Edgewood) filed the lawsuit in a Travis County district court against Abbott, MTX Group, and the Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday evening.
The lawmakers argue the contract should be voided by the court “for lack of DSHS’ authority to expend essentially unlimited funds toward a goal unidentified by the Legislature.”
“[T]he Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas Legislature. These decisions are not changed by pandemics.”
The suit also takes aim at Abbott for failing to follow competitive bidding rules when awarding the contract..
As first reported by Courthouse News:
“The request for proposal was far less detailed than other specifications provided by other states during this time, with a very short span of time to respond,” the complaint states. “No substantive opportunity to ask questions or suggest alternatives that would have been vastly less expensive or more efficient was allowed.”
Each of the five lawmakers who filed the suit, and many other elected officials and citizens, have been vocal in their opposition to the program since the contract was signed.
“It is unfortunate to see the Governor continues his unprecedented constitutional overreach,” State Rep. Mike Lang told Texas Scorecard after the lawsuit was filed. “The Governor is showing a true lack of respect to the people of Texas, the governmental process, and the legislature.”
“Everyone should pay close attention because we might be giving away our right to privacy and civil liberties in the name of safety,” State Rep. Kyle Biedermann told Texas Scorecard in May, after details of the agreement began to emerge.
State Sen. Bob Hall warned Gov. Greg Abbott that the agreement could permanently stain his legacy, comparing it to the controversial HPV vaccine mandate signed by former Gov. Rick Perry.
The contact tracing agreement is just one of several moves by Abbott that have drawn criticism from lawmakers in his own party. He has also taken heat over the past several months for his string of unilateral executive orders restricting businesses from operating, as well as a statewide face mask mandate.