This article has been updated to correct a misattributed quote
On Thursday, State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury) filed both Senate Bill 1025 and Senate Joint Resolution 45, aimed at curbing the emergency authority of the governor during a declared emergency.
Almost immediately after filing, the bills received 14 other authors (11 Republicans and three Democrats). This accounts for almost half of the 31-member Senate.
SJR 45 would amend the Texas Constitution to allow any current legislator to sue the governor in the Supreme Court of Texas at a time of disaster if the governor fails to convene the Legislature after a qualifying disaster or emergency declaration.
SB 1025 specifically amends the Government Code to make clear that only the Legislature has the authority to suspend or make law in declared times of emergency.
In response to the bills being filed, Nathanael Ferguson, executive director of Texas Action said, “Texans are a people with a government, not the other way around. The people of Texas are citizens, not subjects suitable for rule by executive decree.”
Neither bill has been referred to any Senate committee as of yet.
In contrast, the House of Representatives has several bills that address various gubernatorial authorities during a declared disaster.
Notably, House Bill 3 filed by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock) perpetuates existing authorities found to have been problematic and further codifies them into a completely separate disaster category set aside for pandemics. The bill includes additional provisions for private business liability but also requires them to comply with rules and recommendations made by governing bodies outside of Texas. At the same time, it provides civil liability protections for public sector entities with much fewer strings. It sets out some specific protections for places of worship and firearms, as well. It allows the Legislature to address a state of emergency or pandemic disaster but falls short of actually providing the mechanism to do so in the event they are not already in session. This bill has currently been referred to the House State Affairs Committee but has yet to be set for a hearing.
Friday, March 12, marks the deadline for legislators to file bills, as well as the point in the 140-day legislative session in which bills not deemed as emergency items by the governor can be considered by both chambers. Expect that soon, bills related to the governor’s authorities during a declared disaster will start moving through the legislative process. What is unclear is which—if any—of them will make it through the entire process and whether the governor himself would allow the ones that come across his desk to become law.