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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Autopsy Report: Lack of Emergency Powers Reform Despite Outcry From Texans

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The events of the last two years in Texas have thrust Chapter 418 of the Texas Government Code into the political spotlight and have certainly caused many to demand reform of controversial authorities as a result.

The lead-up to the 87th Legislative Session saw many lawmakers expressing that they felt somewhat helpless to address many of their constituents’ concerns, as they were not convened in a special legislative session by Governor Greg Abbott.

In the absence of legislative action, Abbott resorted to a litany of executive actions, including some that left local governments to enforce their own schemes.

As a result, several lawmakers promised to address these issues during the regular legislative session. But the session came and went, with very little to show in the way of reforms.

Varying Approaches Between House and Senate

From the outset of the legislative session, both legislative chambers prioritized different approaches to reforming the emergency powers of both the governor and local governments.

The Senate was generally quick to pass bills that did both. State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury) was the author of Senate Bill 1025 and Senate Joint Resolution 45, which would have amended the Texas Government Code to make it clear that only the Legislature has the authority to suspend or make law in declared times of emergency. It would also have proposed an amendment to the Texas Constitution to allow any current legislator the ability to sue the governor in the Supreme Court of Texas at a time of a disaster if the governor fails to convene the Legislature after a qualifying disaster or emergency declaration. Both bills passed the Senate nearly unanimously on April 13 but were never granted a public hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) authored Senate Bill 1616, which specifically

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