COVID-19 Texas News for Lobbyists

Comptroller Hegar Discusses Virus Impact. On Tuesday, April 7, the Texas Tribune hosted a live interview with Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the state’s economy and workforce. In the interview, the Comptroller was reluctant to make exact predictions for how the virus might affect the state budget, citing previous downturns when the Comptroller’s office was forced to issue several revisions to its predictions as conditions worsened. He did, however, predict that adjustments to the state’s cash flow could see the State of Texas through its two-year budget cycle without the legislature meeting for a special session. Other highlights from the Comptroller’s discussion:

  • The effect of the pandemic on sales tax receipts is unclear because of the month-to-month lag in collections, but receipts will likely be down significantly.
  • The Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund), previously projected to grow to more than $9 billion by 2021, will likely instead grow to around $8.5 billion. About $2 billion of the fund was committed last session, especially for Hurricane Harvey-related expenses, but has not yet been spent. It is possible that some of those commitments could be deferred.
  • Sales tax deferrals are unlikely at this time because the Comptroller does not have authority to defer sales tax collections on a case-by-case basis, or to defer collections for specific industries.

The Comptroller expects to receive enough data to make more definite predictions about the virus’ impact around June 1st, when the Office can examine several months of data. The Comptroller plans to deliver a revised revenue estimate to the legislature by mid-summer.

Comptroller Commits to Work with Businesses Struggling to Pay Taxes. On Thursday, April 9, the Office of the Comptroller announced it would offer assistance to businesses struggling to pay the full amount of sales taxes collected in February. The agency is offering those businesses short-term payment agreements and, in some cases, waivers of penalty and interest. They invited businesses to contact the Enforcement Hotline at 800-252-8880 for more information.

Lt. Governor Forms Economic Task Force. On Tuesday, April 7, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that he would establish a Task Force from his Business Advisory Council to begin to work on a set of recommendations for re-starting the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. Patrick appointed Dallas businessman Brint Ryan, founder and CEO of Ryan International, to chair the Task Force. Ryan currently chairs Lt. Gov. Patrick’s Advisory Board on Tax Policy.

Governor Delivers Update on Virus Response. On Wednesday, April 8, Governor Abbott held a press conference at the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide an update on the state’s response to COVID-19. The discussion covered issues ranging from testing and case trends to unemployment and the economy. Some of the major takeaways:

  • Currently, positive cases of COVID-19 are doubling about every 6 days in Texas.
  • Testing is ramping up in Texas at the rate of about 10 percent per day; the state will soon cross the 100,000 mark for total tests.
  • Harris County is an emerging hotspot for the virus, with the number of positive tests and hospitalizations increasing rapidly. The state is working to ensure the County has sufficient testing and protective supplies to respond, and has already sent over 125,000 masks.
  • The Texas Workforce Commission has taken in over 600,000 claims in a two-week period – about 5 times the normal rate. TWC will likely process more claims in the five-week period than it did in all of 2019.
  • The Governor would like to see more data and a stronger trendline showing curbing of the virus before discussing reopening businesses.

Governor Abbott Continues to Waive Regulations to allow for expedited COVID-19 Response

Governor Abbott Waives Licensing Regulations to Expand Health Care Workforce. On Sunday, April 5, Governor Greg Abbott issued an order temporarily waiving certain regulations to expand the health care workforce to assist with Texas’ COVID-19 response. Under the waiver, Physician Assistants, Medical Physicists, Perfusionists, and Respiratory Care candidates who have completed all other requirements may enter the workforce under a​ supervised emergency license. The waiver also allows emergency licensees to undergo name-based background checks instead of fingerprint checks while fingerprint checks are unavailable.

Governor Waives Pharmacy Workforce Regulations. On Wednesday, April 8, Governor Abbott announced an emergency executive order waiving certain pharmacy regulations to increase pharmacy workforce capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Governor’s waiver, pharmacy technicians can now accept prescription drug orders over the phone – a responsibility typically reserved for pharmacists. The order also allows pharmacy interns to assist pharmacists without the designation of a preceptor.

Governor Allows Remote Notary Appearances. On Thursday, April 9th, Governor Abbott issued an executive order suspending statutes to allow for remote notary services. The order allows videoconference appearances before a notary public to execute a self-proved will, a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a directive to physician, or an oath of an executor, administrator, or guardian. The suspensions help to avoid the need for in-person contact during the pandemic.