COVID-19 Texas News for Lobbyists

Governor Greg Abbott has taken several actions in the past week meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas and assist citizens medical services, and businesses experiencing disruptions. These actions include:

Restrictions on Gatherings, Restaurants, and Other Businesses. On March 19, Governor Abbott issued an order closing schools, bars and gyms amid COVID-19 concerns. The order limits restaurant service to takeout and delivery orders only, limits gatherings to 10 people and temporarily closes schools until April 3. The order also bans people from visiting nursing homes and long-term care facilities unless they are providing care.

Request for Small Business Administration Emergency Declaration. On March 18, Governor Abbott requested designation from the Small Business Administration and an Economic Injury Disaster Declaration in order to access the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program for the entire state of Texas. If granted, the SBA would provide long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. Loans They may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills at an interest rate of 3.75% for small businesses.

Waiver of Driver License Regulations. On March 18, Governor Abbott announced that he has directed the Department of Public Safety to temporarily waive expiration dates for Driver Licenses, Commercial Driver Licenses, and other identification forms. “Texas is at a pivotal moment in the response to COVID-19, and by temporarily delaying Driver License renewals we will help limit non-essential trips into public settings and slow the spread of this virus.”

Waiver of Telemedicine Regulations. On March 17, Governor Abbott waived certain regulations and directed that the Texas Department of Insurance issue an emergency rule to allow telemedicine visits for patients with state-regulated plans to be paid the same as in-office visits for insurance purposes. “As the State of Texas responds to COVID-19, we continue to work to maintain regular health care services and operations throughout the state, and telemedicine is one of the most valuable tools we have to ensure Texans continue to receive the health services they need,” said Governor Abbott. “Expanding telemedicine options will help protect the health of patients and health care professionals, and help Texas mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Fast-Tracked Medical Licensing. On March 14, Governor Abbott directed the Texas Medical Board and the Texas Board of Nursing to fast-track the temporary licensing of out-of-state physicians, physician assistants, retired physicians, nurses, and other license types to assist in Texas’ response to COVID-19. The Texas Medical Board and Board of Nursing will allow out-of-state professionals to obtain a Texas limited emergency license or hospital-to-hospital credentialing through the time period that encompasses the Governor’s Disaster Declaration. Other types of out-of-state health care professionals regulated by TMB may also receive temporary licenses.

Standardized Testing Waiver. On March 16, Governor Abbott announced that he has waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) standardized testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year. Many schools in Texas are closed indefinitely, and Governor Abbott requested that the Department of Education waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year.

May 2nd Elections Postponed. On March 18, Governor Abbott issued a Proclamation allowing local governments the option of postponing the May 2, 2020 elections until the next uniform election date, November 3rd. “I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November,” said Governor Abbott. “Right now, the state’s focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort.”

Special Election Postponed for State Senate Seat. On March 16, Governor Abbott postponed the special election for the Austin-area Texas Senate District 14 due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic to July 14. The election will replace retiring State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and was originally scheduled to be held on May 2.

More news from the Office of the Texas Governor can be found here.