AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers, sidelined throughout Gov. Greg Abbott’s pandemic response, believe they should be included in the state’s effort to fight COVID-19.
“These powers that you are using, we granted them to you but we never gave up our own power, and our own desire, and our own ability to represent our constituents and to honor our duty to our state,” said State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, (D-San Antonio).
The governor of Texas can suspend rules, not laws, during a disaster declaration. The state legislature can end a disaster declaration at any time, whether or not it is in session, and is the only state entity permitted to suspend laws under the Texas Constitution.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 8,076 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a record since the pandemic began.
In a letter sent to Abbott on Tuesday, Martinez Fischer said, “It becomes harder to deny the truth: you took a gamble on our state’s response strategy, and Texas lost.”
“Most people think that we have to be brought in to a special session to govern,” said Martinez Fischer, a self-described policy wonk. “When I read that law, it is very clear that it is the intent of the legislature to have a say any time during an emergency or a pandemic.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Abbott has faced pressure from Democrats demanding strict orders to slow the spread of the virus. He faced friendly fire from conservatives who wanted the governor to reopen the economy more quickly.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Fox News’ Laura Ingram that shutting down the economy again is the “last thing” he or Abbott want to do. He criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, for expressing concerns about rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Texas.
On April 27, Abbott announced Phase 1 of his plan to reopen the state economy, when the 7-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases was 834. On July 1, that metric was 6,020.
“We’ll listen to a lot of science, we’ll listen to a lot of doctors, and Governor Abbott, myself and other state leaders will make the decision,” Patrick said. “No, thank you, Dr. Fauci.”
Abbott changed his own order under pressure from Republicans when a Dallas salon owner, Shelly Luther, was jailed for unlawfully opening her doors during his stay at home order. He’s resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate from Democrats and grappled with local leaders over public health orders.
“[Abbott] needs to either do the statewide mandate or he needs to allow the local governments to do what they need to do to keep their communities safe,” state Rep. Donna Howard, (D-Austin), said. “He needs to lead or get out of the way.”
Abbott paused the state’s reopening plan and closed bars last week, acknowledging later that bars may have been allowed to reopen too soon. But he still maintains that shutting down the state again would be a last resort.