Texas Lobbyist News

Governor Urges Local Governments Against Increasing Property Taxes. On May 19, Governor Abbott responded to a letter from members of the Texas Democratic Congressional Delegation regarding tax burdens on Texans. In his letter, the Governor voiced his support of lessening the tax burden on Texans and urged local governments not to raise property taxes during the pandemic. “Property owners shouldn’t be saddled with rising property taxes while dealing with a pandemic,” said Governor Abbott. “As a result, local governments, who set property tax rates, should find ways to reduce the tax burden on Texans.”

In the letter, the Governor also urged the members to help pass legislation that protects business owners, healthcare facilities and employees, and first responders from being held liable for COVID-19 exposure claims when they adhere to relevant public health guidelines and make good faith efforts to limit the risk of exposure and infection. The full letter can be accessed at https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/O-CongressionalDelegation202005180860.pdf.

State Leaders Direct Agencies to Reduce Budgets by 5%. On May 20, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen sent a letter directing most state agencies and institutions of higher education to each submit a plan identifying savings that will reduce agency general and general revenue-related appropriations by five percent for the 2020-2021 biennium. Suggested savings strategies include foregoing any capital expenditures that can be deferred, any avoidable travel expenditures, any administrative expenses that are not mission critical. and keeping unfilled any open positions that are not essential to the COVID-l9 response. These savings should be lapsed to the Treasury.

In the coming weeks, the Legislative Budget Board and the Office of the Governor will issue instructions for the Legislative Appropriations Request that each state agency and institution of higher education will submit for the 2022-2023 biennium. While the exact final instructions are still being determined, every state agency and institution should prepare to submit reduced budget requests as well as strategies to achieve further savings. Furthermore, when the state revenue picture becomes clearer in the coming months, it may become necessary to make additional budget adjustments. The full letter can be accessed at https://static.texastribune.org/media/files/a34c76c1f470d023b34aaf85f17728d8/O-AgencyHeads202005200703.pdf.

Governor Waives Fees for TABC License And Permit Renewals. On May 20, Governor Abbott announced that he would allow Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission license and permit renewals to occur after the current 30-day grace period after an expiration date without any late fees. The waiver applies to renewals with an expiration date on or after March 13, 2020.

“As we continue to safely and strategically open the state of Texas, we want to ensure financial barriers are removed for businesses that plan to open up to the public,” said Governor Abbott. “By granting an extended renewal period and waiving license and permit renewal late fees, we are ensuring Texas entrepreneurs and business owners are supported as we kick-start our economy and continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Governor Expands COVID-19 Testing in All State Hospitals & State-Supported Living Centers. On May 21, Governor Abbott directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to expand COVID-19 testing to all patients, residents, and staff at the 23 state-operated inpatient psychiatric hospitals and living centers throughout Texas. The agency operates 13 state supported living centers that provide 24-hour residential care, medical services, and vocational training for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The agency also operates 10 state hospitals that provide acute inpatient psychiatric care for adults, children and adolescents.

“By expanding widespread COVID-19 testing to our state hospitals and state supported living centers, we are better equipped to identify and mitigate these potential hot spots and protect our most vulnerable populations,” said Governor Abbott. “I thank HHSC for their ongoing partnership to provide more testing at these facilities across the state.”

The announcement expands testing to all patients, residents and staff to further assess the scope and extent of possible infections at facilities statewide. Previously, residents and patients were tested if they displayed symptoms of COVID-19 or had possible exposure to the virus. The new round of testing will cover those who have shown no signs of COVID-19 or have not been tested within the last 30 days.

Governor Issues Executive Order Terminating Air Travel Restrictions. On May 20, Governor Abbott issued an Executive Order terminating air travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor’s new order immediately terminates all restrictions contained in the Governor’s previous order that mandated temporary quarantines for air travelers arriving from the following areas of the United States: California; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; or Miami, Florida. The new order is effective immediately.