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Texas House Passes Bill Limiting Governor's Powers During Pandemics

AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The Texas House gave final approval Tuesday, May 11 to a bill that would limit the Governor's authority during a pandemic.

Under House Bill 3, Governor Greg Abbott and future Governors would need to work more closely with the state legislature.

They would need lawmakers' approval if they wanted to extend any mask mandates, or limit medical procedures, or business capacity beyond 30 days.

The legislation would also create a legislative oversight committee co-chaired by the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House, and would act if the legislature wasn't in session.

If a disaster declaration continues past three months, the Governor would need to call a special session of the legislature to consider changes.

The Governor would still be able to suspend state laws during a pandemic and override conflicting emergency orders by County Judges and Mayors.

Governor Abbott has been sharply criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for his response to the pandemic.

In outlining the bill, Republican State Representative Dustin Burrows of Lubbock said, "This bill does not give the Governor any new powers that he did not have during the last pandemic. The bill instead gives clarity on how in a pandemic the response should be handled."

Democratic Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who frequently criticized Governor Abbott's decisions, opposes the House bill.

"It hinders the Governor from making a lot of those decisions, decisions that you want someone to make that you are going to be hurt if they aren't made and they aren't made quickly," Judge Jenkins said.

Republican Matt Rinaldi, a former State Representative from Irving, said the House bill doesn't limit the Governor's powers enough.

He prefers a Senate bill, SB 1025, that previously passed in conjunction with SJR 45, that give only the legislature the authority to restrict capacity at businesses.

Rinaldi said, "I would love to see it because then Texans could go forward and businesses can plan knowing they're not going to be shut down by the governor on a whim. HB 3 do what grassroots Republicans and I think a lot of Democrats and people of all parties want is just to know that the Governor will not shut down their livelihood."

The House and Senate may have to hash out the differences in their bills.

CBS 11 reached out to Governor Abbott's office for comment Tuesday, but didn't hear back.

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