AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott held a small business roundtable on Monday in Fort Worth.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Business & Commerce, and is also a member of the Committee on Finance will join the governor.
Abbott has vowed to protect businesses from any litigation stemming from COVID-19, specifically offering protection as long as the businesses operated “in good faith.”
Earlier this month, Abbott announced businesses would be able to expand capacity to 100% across the state.
During the conference, Abbott said that while he believes businesses would be able to fully defend themselves from people claiming they got COVID-19 “with no proof” from an establishment, more protections need to be in place.
“It’s hard for anyone to really know where they may have been exposed to COVID,” the governor said. “And that’s one thing that would make a lawsuit like this be so frivolous… While we still believe a business would be successful in defending themselves against this litigation, they would still come out to be a loser because of all the money they had to spend defending themselves. They should not even have to spend that money.”
Senate Bill 6, coauthored by Sen. Hancock, would prevent those lawsuits from ever seeing a courtroom.
“We want to make sure that we create that protections to make sure our economy, returns to where it was before the pandemic hit, and that we continue to see job growth in the state of Texas,” Sen. Hancock said during the press conference on Monday.
The legislation has drawn criticism from civil rights advocates, including the League of United Latin American Citizens. LULAC believes state leaders should have been paying more attention to the workplace back in the spring of 2020.
“They did nothing to protect the workers. I’m talking about basic stuff, just given them a mask, just spreading them out,” LULAC President Domingo Garcia said in response.
He’s referring specifically to the working conditions at meatpacking plants up in Amarillo, where one of the first major COVID-19 hotspots emerged last year. Hundreds of workers there tested positive for COVID-19, and Garcia said state lawmakers should have held the businesses themselves more responsible.
“If you get sick, because your boss didn’t provide protection and provide social distancing didn’t provide plexiglass didn’t do anything, even testing on-site testing, then they get a free pass,” Garcia added, “That’s so so fundamentally unfair.”
But, Sen. Hancock said SB 6 was crafted carefully, and would not impact Texans with valid claims. It’s only meant to prevent frivolous cases with no clear proof of COVID contraction.
“We drafted this, looking at the very nuances that were there was a claim that we didn’t want to infringe on someone’s ability to actually file a claim that was legitimate,” Sen. Hancock explained.
Abbott explained that as the year continues, he’ll host several more roundtables to talk to business owners. He said ideas and strategies taken from these discussions will be taken back to the Texas Capitol.