On March 13, 2020, in a crowded press room in the Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would be declaring a state of emergency over COVID after 39 cases were reported in the state of Texas.
“Declaring a state of disaster is a key component of these efforts because it allows the state to effectively serve the people of Texas without hindrance or delay,” Abbott said at the time.
The original order was set to expire after 30 days. Today, it has been 1,000 days, as the order has been renewed every month since then. Now Texas is one of just 11 states nationwide that remain in a state of COVID emergency.
That emergency declaration has been the basis of every COVID-related executive order issued since—first lockdowns and mask mandates, followed by orders to prohibit local entities from implementing more stringent requirements—all without input from the state Legislature.
The perpetual disaster declaration has ignited a conversation about the proper role of executive authority in emergencies—and when it goes too far. But despite the issue of executive overreach being a stated priority of the Republican Party of Texas last year, the state Legislature failed to pass any restrictions on the practice and even refused to vote to end the emergency orders themselves.
On November 18, Abbott issued his latest 30-day extension of the order, saying COVID “poses an imminent threat of disaster for all counties in the State of Texas.”
And with the the governor’s latest 30-day extension set to expire on December 18, Abbott’s office has been quiet on whether or not he will sign another extension. His office did not respond to an inquiry from Texas Scorecard as to why the declaration was still necessary and what criteria he would use to determine whether it could be ended.
State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Waxahachie), however, says the time for COVID emergency orders is over, and that he will be filing legislation to put an end to perpetual extensions without input from the Legislature.
“As the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I helped coordinate the federal public health emergency declaration,” Harrison told Texas Scorecard. “It’s well past time for all COVID emergency orders to end, and I will be filing legislation soon to prevent emergency powers to continue unless the legislature votes to extend them.”
The Legislature will reconvene on January 10, 2022.