The Texas Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would require the governor to call a special session in order to extend a major disaster declaration over 30 days. The move would impose a substantial limit on gubernatorial power and reflects lawmakers’ discontent with unilateral decisions made by the governor throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed bill would require the governor to call a special session in order to declare a state of emergency for over 30 days, thus allowing lawmakers the chance to terminate or adjust executive actions taken by the governor. The legislation would require the governor to attain legislative approval to close businesses.
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott rejected calls from some lawmakers to bring them back for a special session and undertook a series of executive orders and declarations in response to the pandemic. The governor’s pandemic-related measures—particularly the statewide shutdown and mask mandate—drew criticism from many within his own party, provoking protests and legal challenges from business owners and Republicans who said that the orders infringed on their rights. Meanwhile, Democrats and public health experts argued Abbott had failed to protect the health of citizens.
Sen. Brian Birdwell (R) spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday that “only the state Legislature may affect livelihood.” He criticized the prolonged mandates and Abbott’s decision to act without the approval of the Legislature.
If the Senate action is approved by the House, the amendment would be put to voters with the Nov. 2 ballot before it could take effect.
A similar measure to reform the governor’s emergency powers currently under House consideration. HB3 would allow the governor to suspend state laws and require local jurisdictions to get approval from the secretary of state before altering voting procedures during a pandemic.