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Research & Commentary: Texas House Bill Contains Realistic Specifications for State and Local Government Reponses to a Pandemic Disaster

July 14, 2022

In this Research & Commentary, Samantha Fillmore examines a House Bill in Texas that would create a pandemic response plan for state and local governments.

The Texas House of Representatives has introduced House Bill 3, a bill that would create a blueprint for state and local government responses to a pandemic disaster. Further, HB 3 reintegrates the legislative branch back into the pandemic response process by the establishing of the Pandemic Disaster Legislative Oversight Committee.

House Bill 3 would establish a Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute out of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The institute shall establish and maintain a public health reserve network of public health professionals, community health workers, state and local public health agencies, health care organizations, universities throughout the state, and other relevant entities and persons for the purpose of supporting pandemic and epidemic disaster preparedness and response components of the state emergency management plan. The Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute would also advise and make recommendations to the Pandemic Disaster Legislative Oversight Committee.

The Pandemic Disaster Legislative Oversight Committee would be established under HB 3 to consider the impact on the state and its residents of a state of pandemic disaster declared by the governor and provide legislative oversight of pandemic disaster declarations. The committee would be comprised of 16 members including: the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house of representatives, the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, the chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, the chair of the Senate Committee on Education, the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, the chair of the House Committee on State Affairs, the chair of the House Committee on Public Health, the chair of the House Committee on Public Education, the chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and the chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, two members appointed by the lieutenant governor, and two additional members appointed by the speaker of the house to ensure ethnic minority representation on the committee.

The lieutenant governor and speaker of the house shall serve as joint chairs of the committee. Any member of the Senate or House of Representatives may submit a written request to the joint chairs of the committee to participate in the committee’s proceedings to the extent practical. Interestingly, the committee may act only when the legislature is not convened in regular or special session.

The committee is authorized to review any state of pandemic disaster declaration issued by the governor that is in effect for more than 30 days following the governor’s renewal of the declaration. The committee may review proclamations, orders, or rules issues or adopted by the governor and any orders issued by a country or municipality for the pandemic disaster declaration. The committee may terminate the state of pandemic disaster, provisions, or proclamations, order, or rules issued or adopted by the governor, or orders issued by a county or municipality for the pandemic disaster declaration.

House Bill 3 also creates the Texas Pandemic Response Act. The purpose of the act is to protect and preserve individual liberties; reduce the vulnerability of residents to damage, injury, loss of life, and property resulting from a pandemic disaster; prepare for prompt and efficient care and treatment of persons; maintain employment levels for state residents to the extent possible; provide a setting conducive to the rapid and orderly restoration and rehabilitation of persons and property affected by a pandemic disaster; and to clarify the roles of the governor, state agencies, the judicial branch and the political subdivisions in the state in the prevention and response to a pandemic disaster. The Texas Pandemic Response Act would also provide an emergency management system addressing all aspects of pandemic preparedness and response, assist in the mitigation of pandemic disasters aggravated by inadequate planning, and regulate public and private resources.

Texas’ House Bill 3 is a tremendous and comprehensive response to the lack of procedure and uniformity that plagued states during the coronavirus pandemic. During the pandemic, many Americans saw their respective governors wield unprecedented power with seemingly unlimited emergency declarations. This overnight shift in governance, coupled with a plethora of governors who abused their pandemic emergency powers, has left several states reevaluating constitutional statutes pertaining to emergency provisions and powers granted to the governor during a state of emergency. With HB 3, Texas is no exception.

Simply put, HB 3 creates commonsense restrictions and limitations on gubernatorial powers, while creating mechanisms to ensure a smooth and balanced response to any future pandemic disasters. Furthermore, it reintegrates the legislature into the governing process during states of emergency. It aligns with many of the principles developed by The Heartland Institute during the pandemic, which legislators can reference upon any gubernatorial abuses of power.

Some of these ideas and principles include:

  1. The ability to immediately nullify an emergency proclamation via resolution.
  2. The creation of time limitations for an emergency order, renewable by the legislature.
  3. The ability to pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
  4. Permitting an interim committee or group of legislative leaders to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
  5. The imposition of specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation (i.e., restrict the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, or shutting down freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms).

There is a clear appetite among lawmakers and constituents to establish a plan that protects their rights from gubernatorial overreach, especially after governors around the country dictated policy like kings throughout the pandemic. Via this legislation, Texas lawmakers can catch up to their peers in other states who have already taken measures to rein in executive authority and the uncertainty that comes with pandemic disasters.

Co-equal governance, checks and balances, and the decentralization of power are bedrock principles of American democracy. Yet, these fundamental principles have been AWOL since the pandemic.

Fortunately, lawmakers in the Lone Star State are reasserting their rightful place in pandemic disaster responses as a much-needed check against the executive branch and advocate for Texas constituents.

 The following documents provide more information about executive authority in a state of emergency.

 

Testimony Before The Georgia House Committee on Judiciary, Scoggins Subcommittee, On House Bill 358, Restoring The State Legislature’s Role In Emergency Management 

Testimony Before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee regarding legislative and executive authority in a state of emergency.

Andrew Cuomo Is Just a Governor, Not a God

Cuomo has issued multiple statements in an attempt to quell the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and lawmakers in Albany to no avail.

Governors, Not Gods – A Heartland Institute Webinar

The Heartland Institute hosted a webinar on Aug. 27, 2020 for state legislators to discuss how they can rein in governors, who wield seemingly unlimited powers in the wake of COVID-19. For many months, Americans have been abhorred by out-of-control governors who have imposed draconian lockdowns, which have decimated small businesses and people’s livelihoods. For instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been roundly criticized for his heavy-handed and ineffectual response to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, which has drawn substantial blowback. Cuomo has also attempted to coverup his disastrous policy of forcing elderly patients with COVID-19 to return to nursing homes, where they spread the deadly diseases like wildfire among New York’s most vulnerable. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures dip lower, now is the time to begin exploring oversight over dictatorial governors and restore power where it rightfully belongs: With we the people, not I the governor.

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Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at governmentrelations@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Samantha Fillmore is a State Government Relations Manager for The Heartland Institute.
sfillmore@heartland.org @GRHeartland