A year ago, Texas governments were making it up as we went along.
Officials responded to COVID-19 by upending our lives, shutting down the economy, and closing schools. Parents became teachers and grocery store stockers became vital front-line troops. Governments further closed bars, mandated masks, and enforced stringent measures that chipped away at our fundamental freedoms.
Today, it’s clear that pandemic powers need to be changed. Texans deserve stronger protections that make clear what powers governments have and do not have during disastrous times. That’s what House Bill 3, the Texas Pandemic Response Act (TPRA), aims to accomplish.
Let’s state the obvious upfront: the TPRA is not a perfect bill. No piece of legislation is. However, it should be equally obvious the latest iteration of the bill rebalances disaster policy in a positive way and it is expected to continue to improve as the legislative process unfolds. Calls to abandon the TPRA are shortsighted. Without a viable legislative vehicle for reform, no changes will be made to pandemic powers and Texans will be stuck with the confusion and overreach of the past twelve months for the next eighteen.
That would be tragic, especially because the TPRA proposes several important changes conservatives should cheer.
In its current form, the TPRA creates a limited legislative check on executive authority, more narrowly tailors local government powers, and enshrines several smaller but still significant reforms, like preventing big tax increases during a disaster and preventing governments from jailing people for noncompliance.
The plan to create a new check-and-balance on executive authority is very important. Over the last 12 months, the absence of state lawmakers has been widely felt. To ensure their voices aren’t sidelined again in the future, the TPRA proposes to create the Legislative Pandemic Disaster Oversight Committee, a 10-member body tasked to convene after a short period and armed with the ability to: 1) end the state of disaster; and 2) terminate any rule or order issued pursuant to the disaster declaration.
The committee—comprised of the Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, and other select members—represents a much-needed check on executive authority as it would rope-in other elected representatives into the decision-making process after the event horizon.
Some have criticized the TPRA for not requiring the full legislature to convene and sought to dismiss it entirely on that basis. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The creation of a limited legislative body to check executive overreach is ...