The Texas Pandemic Response Act, or House Bill 3 by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock), was heard Thursday in the Senate State Affairs Committee. The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury), offered a revised version of the bill by getting rid of almost the entirety of HB 3 as it passed the House and instead inserted his approach to emergency powers reform in Senate Bill 1025, which passed the Senate on April 13.
Notably, this revision eliminates the controversial pandemic oversight committee that was added into the House version of the bill after it was originally filed, much to the chagrin of activists across the state.
Birdwell noted in the committee hearing that he adjusted his original approach in SB 1025 by adding in some qualifiers, including extending the time frame in which the Governor can call a disaster declaration without having to get further approval from the state Legislature from 30 days to 60 days.
Brief History and Next Steps
Throughout the 87th Legislative Session, each legislative chamber has used varying approaches to curtail or reform executive overreach on both the state and local levels.
The Senate was generally quick to pass out a few different bills to address this issue. They passed out Birdwell’s SB 1025 and the proposed constitutional amendment enabled by the bill on April 13. In early May, the Senate also passed out Senate Bill 1616 by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), which reduces the powers of local governments during disasters.
The House chose not to consider Birdwell’s bills, but notably, the House Public Health Committee did choose to vote out Bettencourt’s approach on Wednesday. It will now have to be posted on a floor calendar for the House to consider by Tuesday, May 25, to survive an impending deadline precluding the House from considering any additional Senate bills for the remainder of the session.
The Senate Committee on State Affairs announced they intended to vote on the committee substitute for HB 3 on Friday. Assuming the bill is passed, it will have to be placed on the Senate Intent Calendar and passed out of the Senate by Wednesday, May 26, avoiding the deadline precluding the Senate from considering any new bills. Assuming all of the above happens, the House will have to decide whether to accept the Senate changes or appoint a conference committee with only days to spare.