Priority legislation in the Texas Senate intended to protect businesses from COVID-related lawsuits is creating concern among some conservatives, who say the bill would subject businesses to broad federal regulations.

Senate Bill 6 by State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills) is a priority piece of legislation for both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.

But while the bill purports to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits during pandemics, some say the bill could actually have the effect of subjecting businesses to new government regulations.

Specifically, businesses that “knowingly failed to implement or comply with government-promulgated standards, guidance, or protocols” would not be eligible for liability protection.

Since guidance from the state and federal government has changed drastically since the coronavirus was declared a “disaster” in March of 2020, this could create a massive burden for businesses trying to keep up.

Constitutional law expert and former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi says the bill relies too heavily on government guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which has made strict recommendations in response to the coronavirus.

“So a business failing to mask toddlers or requiring double-masking would be liable because they didn’t follow CDC guidance? This bill is terrible. It reads as a blueprint to establish liability for virtually every business in Texas,” said Rinaldi.

In their analysis of the bill, Texans For Fiscal Responsibility agreed:

In effect, SB 6 codifies protections for only entities who followed in lockstep with the executive orders issued by Abbott and other officials, while stripping away existing protections for businesses who decided to manage themselves.

 

While Texans for Fiscal Responsibility believes the goal of protecting Texans and their businesses from frivolous lawsuits is a noble one, the text of SB 6 appears to promote the contrary.

State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Plano) has filed the legislation’s companion in the House. 

That bill, House Bill 3659, has been referred to the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. Leach also serves as the chairman of that committee.

Senate Bill 6 is currently on the intent calendar in the Texas Senate, which means the bill could be brought up for a vote at any time.