Democrats, Republicans host town halls ahead of Gov. Abbott’s Friday address

Texas Politics

Texas Capitol (KXAN)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House Democratic Caucus and the Republican Party of Texas each hosted town halls on Thursday ahead of Governor Greg Abbott’s impending economic address scheduled for Friday, April 17.

The Governor said earlier this week that reopening the Texas economy will come in phases.

“This is not going to be a ‘rush the gates, everybody is able to suddenly reopen all at once,’” Abbott said in a news conference on Monday. “We have to understand that we must reopen in a way in which we are able to stimulate the economy while at the very same time ensuring that we contain the spread of COVID-19.”

On Thursday, Democrats on a phone conference said several things still need to happen before Texas is able to reopen.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, chair of Texas House Public Health Committee, said testing needs to become more widely available first to identify anyone who has COVID-19.

“The state of Texas is not healthy yet,” she explained. “We need to develop solutions now to expand our state’s capacity for the next outbreak, not if, but when the time comes.”

Rep. Donna Howard, chair of Texas Women’s Health Caucus, echoed the need for more testing, and also said health care facilities need more PPE.

“There’s a real issue in terms of the supply chain not being reliable,” Howard said. “We’ve had conversations with the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Medical Association who have surveyed their members, and the majority of the doctors responded to say they only have a week’s supply left.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman called for an expansion of Medicaid during the pandemic. He added there also needs to be more of a safety net of insurance for those who have lost their jobs recently.

Rep. Joe Moody also called on the need for more data to be reported on cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where the most vulnerable population is living.

“We need accurate up to date information on the spread and fatality of COVID-19 in these facilities,” Rep. Moody said.

Rep. Chris Turner, chair of Texas House Democratic Caucus said these four things collectively need to happen before Texas is able to reopen.

“We all want businesses to be able to open…but that can only happen when it’s safe to do so. These are things that are essential that Governor Abbott has to get right before we reopen,” Rep. Turner said.

The Texas Republican Party’s phone call with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton answered questions regarding the recent district court’s decision to expand vote-by-mail to more Texans.

The lawsuit argues that the disability provision in the Texas Election Code should also apply to voters who believe they need to practice social distancing to protect themselves or others from the virus.

“Mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are physically ill and cannot vote in-person as a result. Fear of contracting COVID-19 does not amount to a sickness or physical condition as required by the Legislature,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Wednesday.

The ruling has been appealed to the 3rd Court of Appeals. Paxton said he’s prepared to take it to the Texas Supreme Court if necessary, citing concern about increased voter fraud with mail-in ballots.

“There’s just too many ways it can be taken advantage of,” Paxton said.

A caller asked about the ongoing legal action over abortion during the health emergency:

Planned Parenthood asked for a stay on medical abortions and women who were close to the 20-week period.  Ruling temporarily allows some abortions to move forward

Currently, drug-induced abortions are allowed because they do not use medical equipment or hospitals, and abortions are also allowed if the delay puts a woman past the ban on procedure after 20th week of pregnancy.

Paxton said the state is appealing to ban all abortions as unnecessary procedures during the coronavirus emergency.

A caller also asked when people will be allowed to worship in churches again. The AG’s office mentioned the fact that online services are still an option.

Jeff Mateer with the AG’s office defended the Governor’s ruling, “You can’t engage in activities that harm other people,” Mateer said. “The law from the Supreme Court on down says if the government burdens religious activities, it must have a compelling interest. When it does burden religion, it has to do in the least restrictive means.”

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