A rule requiring COVID testing to participate in Senate hearings has one of Texas’ statewide elected officials suing another.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Travis County, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and longtime Houston-area activist Dr. Steve Hotze take aim at Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate for their rule mandating citizens submit to a COVID test before entering the Senate gallery, participating in hearings, or otherwise entering any area in the Capitol controlled by the Senate.
Those rules were approved unanimously earlier this year by members of the Texas Senate.
The lawsuit argues such restrictions violate the Texas Constitution, which requires legislative sessions to be “open and accessible to the public.” It also argues that the testing requirement violates Texans’ constitutional right to free speech and assembly, as well as the Open Meetings Act.
“Patrick is leading an unconstitutional effort to shut down access to the people’s access to their government,” Jared Woodfill, the plaintiffs’ attorney stated. “A medical procedure has never been required to access one’s government.”
The suit also points to the House, where COVID tests are not required, although their rules require masks to be worn.
This is not the first time Miller has signed onto a lawsuit against one of his fellow statewide officials. Last year, Miller joined a group of prominent Republicans in a lawsuit over Gov. Greg Abbott’s extension of early voting.
That suit was struck down by the Texas Supreme Court.
Miller says the Senate’s policy is “inconsistent,” after Gov. Greg Abbott waived the statewide mask mandate and declared Texas “100% open” earlier this month.
“I don’t require anyone to get tested to come in my building,” Miller told Texas Scorecard.
“The constitution allows us to address our legislators and it doesn’t say anything in there I can find about having to take a COVID test,” he added. “It’s not being transparent for one thing, and it’s hypocritical.”
“Knowing Dan Patrick, he’s probably going to retaliate,” he added.
A spokesman for Patrick said, while the lieutenant governor does not vote on Senate rules, “he agrees with the unanimous decision of the Texas Senate to test in order to protect the public, the Capitol staff who interact with hundreds of visitors every day, as well as members of the Legislature.”