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First attempt to redefine the governor’s powers in an emergency

I’m still conflicted about this.

The Texas Senate backed a potential constitutional amendment Tuesday that would substantially rein in the power of the governor during emergencies like this past year’s coronavirus pandemic.

Texas voters would have to approve the amendment Nov. 2 for it to take effect. And before it could get on a ballot, the Senate action must still be approved by the House.

The amendment would require the governor to call a special session in order to declare a state emergency that lasts more than 30 days. The special session would give lawmakers the chance to terminate or adjust executive actions taken by the governor, or pass new laws related to the disaster or emergency.

The Legislature did not meet last year as the pandemic swept the state, so Gov. Greg Abbott addressed the largely unprecedented situation with executive orders and declarations spanning several months, citing the Texas Disaster Act of 1975.

Abbott issued what essentially amounted to a statewide shutdown order last year, and he kept in place some level of capacity limitations for businesses until early March of this year. In July, he mandated that Texans wear masks in public. He also used executive authority to lift other state regulations to help businesses struggling during the pandemic, such as allowing restaurants to sell groceries and mixed drinks to go.

But many state lawmakers say the Legislature should be the government body to make decisions that affect businesses and livelihood of Texans.

“Early on, people understood [business closures] because they’re like, ‘we don’t know what this is,’” Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said on the Senate floor. But as the pandemic and business closures wore on, Birdwell said the anger grew as the mandates continued.

Birdwell said if the governor believes the situation is dire enough that businesses need to close, then he needs to get the Legislature involved.

[…]

“I don’t see this Legislature being able to convene fast enough to answer … in the kind of disasters I have seen and expect the state to see in the future,” said Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, who used to serve as Travis County judge.

Meanwhile, a priority bill filed in the House would carve out future pandemics from how the state responds to other disasters.

That bill, HB 3, has not yet made it out of committee, but would allow the governor to suspend state laws and require local jurisdictions to get approval from the secretary of state before altering voting procedures during a pandemic.

Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, previously told the Texas Tribune that the proposal was meant as a starting point to map out responses in the event of another pandemic.

“HB 3 was trying to set structures, predicting the disaster or the emergency,” Birdwell said. “What I did was set a baseline…It is impossible to predict the disaster.”

As I’ve said before, I think the Legislature should have a say in these matters, and that calling a special session last year would have cleared some things up and maybe prevented a lawsuit or two. I think Sen. Birdwell’s proposed resolution is more or less okay, though I don’t trust his motives and I agree with Sen. Eckhardt about the Lege’s lack of ability to move quickly in times of crisis. Hell, unless we’re willing to allow a Zoom legislative session, having that special session I mentioned could have been a superspreader event. HB3 is completely off the rails – again with the fixation on preventing counties from making it easier to vote – so if I had to choose between the two I’d take the Senate’s version, but I’m a very qualified and uncertain supporter. The system we had now wasn’t great. My fear is that we’ll make it worse.

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7 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Yes, absolutely rein in the governor’s power to arbitrarily put businesses OUT of business on a whim. Rein in the power of the governor to mandate masks and cause hairdressers to be jailed by out of control judges. Any bill that limits the governor’s unilateral power I support.

    “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

    ― Thomas Jefferson

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    I am no fan of Gov. Abbott, and he never should have had the power to make mask laws and shutdown orders in the first place.

    However, I did have a short call to the city council meeting this week, and the mayor is not going to issue an apology to the governor for accusing the governor of having a maskless mandate in order to deflect from the Great Grid Crash of 2021.

    The mayor did mention that there were 12 people who died from Covid the day before. He also mentioned that people around Houston are still wearing the masks. I didn’t have the time to point out a few things. Such as the states of Michigan and New York with the big mask laws are having an out of control “surge.” Also, that the numbers for the entire state of Texas are still level. Not just the Houston region. Also that Texas had 100 Covid positive migrants released into its population, and also that Texas had spring break at Galveston and South Padre.

    Most importantly, I didn’t get to say, that the point is that the people are doing fine, in choosing if, when, and where to wear a mask. They don’t need the Republican Knife of Abbott held to their throats to tell them what to do.

    Strangely enough, the Houston Chronicle site, the very next day, Wednesday morning, posted a Texas Tribune article that unearthed some “experts” to say that it’s too early to say that the maskless mandate won’t cause a surge, maybe in months or years, but at some point, if it happens, know that it happened because of the Maskless Mandate. It may be a coincidence, or maybe someone from the city made a call to the Chronicle and said to post something of that nature…

    It’s time to stop the insanity.

  3. Jen says:

    Doesn’t matter if it is a Republican governor or Republican legislators, they will act out of self-interest and not in the interest of Texas citizens, so it really doesn’t matter.

    As Mr. Kuffner often states, the only fix is to elect Democrats.

  4. Jason Hochman says:

    The Democrats are just the other side of the same bad penny. Since Cap’n Unity Biden was elected president, why have cops still killed minorities? Why are the Biden cages packed with kids pulled from their families? Just because the news is not acting all outraged about it, things are worse than even when Trump was president, it’s hard to believe, but more kids in cages, and Mini Annapolis police still killing minorities.

    The only Democrat who didn’t act out of self interest is Jimmy E. Carter. The solution is everyone stop voting.

    “What ass first let loose the doctrine that the suffrage is a high boon and voting a noble privilege?” — H.L. Mencken

    that’s true. Democracy claims to empower the people. Instead it picks there pockets and cheapens their lives. It gives them the choice of the lesser of two evils…see how that worked in Germany in 1932.

  5. Fritz Kraut says:

    Jason,

    What about Germany in 1932? – The Weimar Republic had many problems. Just two parties to vote for wasn’t one of them. Indeed, they had numerous political parties and ideologies, and fragmented parliaments. Hitler took over the government in 1933 (Machtergreifung), and then there was only one party: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP (the NAZI party). He shut down the others and persecuted its leaders. Also had the head of the Brownshirts (SA) executed, a paramilitary organization that had played a key role in the Nazi’s rise to power.

    For the history buffs: In 1932 Adolf Hitler acquired German citizenship by naturalization, opening the opportunity for him to hold public office.

    https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/feb25/hitler-becomes-german/

    Having renounced his own citizenship years earlier to avoid deportation, he was a stateless foreigner at the time, and had a criminal record. Paul von Hindenburg was elected president of Germany that year.

    What are the lessons for Texas, if any?

    Are you suggesting that Abbott’s rule by decree under emergency powers is comparable to Hitler’s seizure of power and dictatorial rule as Führer?

  6. Jason Hochman says:

    Fritz
    No, not comparing the rise of Hitler to the governor having emergency powers.
    Simply stating that lesser of two evilism is still a choice for evil…Hindenburg may have been the lesser evil vs. the Bolsheviks, but he ended up appointing Hitler chancellor, resulting in the Nazi party becoming the sole party. That party was completely controlled by Hitler. So my point being that Democrats and Republicans are both bad choices. Choosing the lesser evil is not a long term strategy for voting.

  7. Kris Overstreet says:

    Here’s the thing.

    Republicans have already taken away local authorities’ ability to react to an emergency or crisis.

    Now they seek to take away the governor’s ability to react to an emergency or crisis.

    This isn’t because they think the legislature can or should react to an emergency or crisis.

    They don’t want any form of government to be able to do anything about disasters AT ALL.