On Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed yet another bill intended to reform the power of government during declared emergencies and disasters. Meanwhile, the Texas House has yet to take up any similar legislation.
Authored by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), Senate Bill 1616 specifically addresses overreach by local governments in times of a disaster as it relates to the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. It clarifies the definition of “disaster” to explicitly exclude an epidemic or spread of a communicable disease. It goes on to reduce penalties for violating any orders as civil penalties rather than criminal.
The Senate previously passed bills aiming to curb overreach by the state executive branch in early April. Since then, the bills have been referred to the House State Affairs Committee but have not yet been set for a hearing.
Though several bills relating to reforming the authorities of both the executive branch and local governments were filed in the House, none have made it through the legislative process thus far to be considered by the overall body.
Reforming local and state government overreach was an added legislative priority of the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas after the conclusion of the state Republican convention in late 2020.
With less than one month left in the 140-day 87th Legislative Session, the prospects of any of the bills related to executive or local government overreach are still unclear. Deadlines in the House are quickly approaching, meaning the window for their realistic deliberations is starting to close.