Legislation filed to limit Texas governor's disaster powers

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Lampasas County, according to state records, has had about 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 15 deaths.

While orders from the governor are being observed, businesses are open and people are moving about. Courtney Owens purchased her flower shop on the Lampasas Town Square, a month after the outbreak hit. "Yes they need to be protected, small towns need to be protected," said Owens.

She doesn't want a surge in an urban center, like Austin or Dallas, to determine if she stays open. "No, because my business is completely different than the ones in Dallas and Austin. It's small, we are a small town, we do things different, we don't have as many people," said Owens



HB 173 could provide small rural businesses with some protection. Filed by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), the bill would limit the executive powers of the governor during a disaster.

"And it deals with times in a pandemic, if it goes beyond seven days, it basically does like city councils and commissioners courts does. The whole court then decides, so we would have a panel of 5 to 7 members along with the governor, be able to continue forward from there, but then after a certain period of time whether its 21 days or 30 days, we have to call a special session," said Springer.

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The legislation, according to Springer, is not a personal critique on how the governor has managed the state response to the pandemic.

"I think it’s more of a checks and balances. Nobody envisioned this and I think we learn from how these go. I know his heart is in the right place but we've disagreed on some things," said Springer.

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He went on to say checks and balances are needed because no one knows what the next declared disaster might be a decade from now. Springer drafted his bill while running for a state senate seat. He eventually won a hotly contested runoff against fellow Republican Shelley Luther, who gained popularity earlier this year after refusing to close her salon in compliance with an order issued by the governor.

"But he had to put it out there, now that he won, that's on the table and a lot of people are looking at it and saying there might be something to this bill," said political analyst Brian Smith.

For Springer's bill, or another he is expected to file in the Senate, to move forward, Smith agrees that urban and rural lawmakers will have to build a rare political coalition. Both would be pushing different agendas.

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"The urban counties want more say over how to deal with pandemics, local problem dealt with locally. Rural guys are saying we don't want to be governed by Austin, we don't want this oppressive legislation coming down on us. We want Texas open for business. So, both places, for different reasons, want the Governor of Texas to have limited powers over things like this pandemic," said Smith.

If HB 173 clears the legislature a public vote would be required. But first, Smith believes the fate of Springer's bill will be determined if the coalition can survive a contentious budget debate and hot topics like redistricting and birth control.