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Have you been pining for another Hotze/Woodfill lawsuit?

Well, then today is your lucky day.

Not that kind of face mask

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and conservative activist Dr. Steven Hotze, a prolific litigant, are suing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for requiring COVID-19 tests for entry into the Texas Senate gallery and committee hearings.

In the 18-page suit filed in Travis County court, Miller and Hotze argue the Senate rule violates the Texas Constitution and Open Meetings Act and ask the court to block the rule. Patrick’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Gov. Abbott is opening up businesses while Patrick is shutting down the people’s access to their government,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Jared Woodfill said in a statement.

Members of the public wishing to view proceedings must receive a wristband that indicates a negative COVID-19 test. The rule was established to prevent the spread of the virus at the statehouse, which proved to be hotspots in other states.

[…]

The lawsuit says the Senate rule “unreasonably restricts speech” by mandating a “medical procedure as a prerequisite” and violates the right to free speech guaranteed by the Texas Constitution.

“The constitutional mandate that the legislative session be ‘open’ supersedes any statutory emergency authority that may otherwise apply to the Senate,” the suit reads, noting Hotze had tried to enter on March 2 but was denied entry when he refused a COVID-19 test.

See here for some background. I couldn’t find a copy of the lawsuit online, but Jasper Scherer has an image of the first four pages. In the name of preserving my sanity, I did not read them. One does not have to be a lawyer to think that the “free speech” argument here is a stretch, though maybe there’s something to the open meetings claim. I’ve got better things to worry about, so we’ll see what the courts make of it. We know what their recent track record is, I’ll just leave it at that.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    This is good news, and shame on Dan Patrick for trying to keep spectators out of the Texas Capitol. We can note that the same day Abbott discontinued his draconian mask mandate, the governor’s mansion was open again for tours by the public….NO medical testing or masks required.

    https://gov.texas.gov/first-lady/tours

    Dan Patrick is wrong here, and hypocritical, to boot. Let people in, Dan! It’s a shame he has to be sued to do the right thing.

  2. Lobo says:

    TRANSPARENCY THUMBS UP AND DOWN

    This is ridiculous. When ever in Lone Star State history have 20+ million Texans have the ability to attended a Lege session and watch from the galleries? Now each and any one of them can watch from the comfort of home, including committee hearings. Not to mention that all bills in all their stages (and in different file formats even) have also been online for years, with sundry lookup and search functionality. The Texas Texas statutes are all online too, in their current versions.

    And as for the courts, they have been conducting most of their oral (as opposed to written-word PDF-mediated) business over Zoom over the course of the pandemic.

    One lamentable exception is the prohibition against recording by involved attorneys and spectators, so we have to rely on the less-than-perfect accuracy of live tweeters and speedy notes of reporters in important cases (such as for example TRO/temporary injunction hearings in voter-suppression litigation last year). Makes you wonder whether today’s cohort of journalists have shorthand among their skill set. It sure would helpful. But with the recording of the legislative proceedings being made available online, you can just go back any time and re-listen to verify what was said,.

    To its credit, the SCOTX publishes the recordings of oral arguments, and almost everything else, like the Lege.

    Credit where credit is due.

    The same cannot be said about a certain private entity known by its initials as ERCOT that is fighting open-records requests while also claiming to be immune as a quasi-governmental entity but not subject to the Public Information Act. Try to have it both ways.

    DENIAL OF ACCESS TO RECORDS –> IGNORANCE AS POLICY ARGUMENT

    With the result that quality journalists then end up reporting the resulting ignorance concerning the beneficiaries of massive PUC-sponsored price gouging as “news”: We-don’t-know nonfacts on who will get “hurt” from having to return the ill-gotten proceeds obtained through a massive price-fixing scandal.

    “Experts fear reversing electricity prices from winter storm could make things worse: It is unclear who would be helped or hurt — and by how much — if lawmakers try to revise electricity market prices charged during the winter storm.” TEXAS TRIBUNE (Mar. 19, 2021).

    And the Independent Market Monitor (IMM) won’t tell the Lege either (even though her outfit has access to ERCOT’s accounting and settlement data) because that’s sensitive and contractually foreclosed. If you guessed that PUC/ERCOT hired the “Independent” Market Monitor, and that ERCOT is the paymaster, you wouldn’t go amiss. At least the public can listen to her testimony, and much more, thanks to the Lege practicing transparency by putting video records of proceedings online. So we know what type of information is being concealed, and worthy of pursuit by other means, such as subpoenas.

    PAXTON PRICE-GOUGING DISPARITY

    As for hypocrisy, and to boot: AG Paxon is suing a San Antonio hotel for charging 3x the regular rate for stays during the winter freeze grid event. (“On the third day, they were told that the room rates had nearly tripled, jumping from $74 a night to $199 a night.”)

    How about power being jacked up from $25 to $9,000?

    But Paxton’s office has previously filed an amicus brief in favor of judicially according ERCOT, which is set up as a nonprofit and populated by representatives of the power industry, sovereign immunity. So, once again, the thinking here is that the King can do no wrong. Nor his minions and his Robber Barons.

    Referenced piece of legal work:

    Amicus Curiae Brief of the Public Utility Commission of Texas submitted by John Hulme of the Texas Attorney General’s Office in Austin, Texas. on Sep. 20, 2019 in ERCOT v. Panda Power, LLC., Tex. Nos. 18-0792 and 18-0781) (arguing, inter alia, that ERCOT has immunity against Panda’s allegations regarding ERCOT’s
    performance of [what the OAG characterizes as] a governmental function.).

    https://search.txcourts.gov/Case.aspx?cn=18-0792&coa=cossup

    Note that the SCOTX had an incorrect docket hyperlink for “View Electronic Briefs” on the order page for the opinions released in this case last Friday.

    As pointed out by Kuff, Harris County and other counties submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in the ERCOT v. PANDA POWER case, stressing the importance of the ERCOT immunity issue following the forced blackouts, and the damages thereby caused.