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Senate Bill would put business closures in hands of legislature

The governor would no longer be able to categorically close businesses during state emergencies without legislative approval – even during the 19-month interim period – under a bill approved by the Senate this week.  Restrictions on businesses to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic were among the most controversial executive orders issued by Governor Greg Abbott in 2020 and Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury said that those decisions should only be made by the branch of government that directly represents the people.  “The state legislative branch must make the most seminal decision for livelihood,” he said.   His bill, SB 1025, would create a role for the Legislature during state emergencies occurring when members aren’t in session by requiring the governor to call them into special session if a declared natural disaster or emergency affecting most of the state lasts longer than 30 days.  Once in Austin, the Legislature would have the power to concur, cancel or alter orders issued by the governor and only they could order the broad closure of businesses. Birdwell said this isn’t about Abbott’s response to the pandemic, but rather a way to empower the people through their elected representatives in the future.  “The Legislature is the sovereign embodiment of the people and it cannot, nor should it, delegate this representative duty at any time, much less during a time of disaster when the liberty and security of its citizenry face uncertainty,” he said.

Also this week the Senate passed a bill to reform operations at the industry organization that manages the state’s electric grid and market, the Electric Reliably Council of Texas (ERCOT).  SB 2, by North Richland Hills Senator Kelly Hancock, would require that all board members live within the state and requires that the five non-industry affiliated seats on the 16-member board be nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.  It would also give the state regulator, the Public Utility Commission, veto power over proposed operational changes at ERCOT.  Hancock also won passage of SB 1278, which would require intermittent generators, like solar and wind power, to purchase backup capacity to cover their obligations to the grid when the weather reduces their output.

Other major bills passed this week include:

  • SB 10 by Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt, would ban cities and counties from using public funds to hire private statehouse lobbyists
  • SB 23 by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, would bar cities from cutting police budgets without voter approval
  • SB 28 by Bettencourt, increases the threshold of votes needed for the state board of education to veto charter school applications and other statutory changes to align the treatment of charter schools with traditional public schools under the law.
  • SB 29 by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, would require students who participate in school sports to join either boys’ or girls’ teams as determined by the sex listed on their original birth certificate
  • SB 15 by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols, would restrict certain state agencies from selling Texans’ personal data to third party vendors
  • SB 14 by Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton, would prohibit cities from requiring businesses to offer employee benefits in conflict with state statute
  • SB 13 by Birdwell and SB 19 by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, would restrict the state from doing business with companies that boycott either fossil fuels or firearms industry

After Thursday’s session, only five of the 30 bills named as priorities by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick this session have yet to be sent to the House for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 19 at 2 p.m.