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Texas lawmakers attempt to rein in Gov. Abbott’s emergency powers

Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 6:55 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - State lawmakers have filed dozens of pieces of legislation, each in different ways attempting to limit the power of the governor to issue emergency orders during declared disasters.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, filed Senate Joint Resolution 45, which would require the governor to call a special session with lawmakers if he wanted to renew a disaster declaration beyond 30 days or issue a new order related to an existing disaster declaration.

“The biggest thing on my plate is emergency powers and rebalancing the role of the Legislature with the executive branch,” Birdwell told KWTX.

Fourteen other senators on both sides of the political aisle have signed onto the bill.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, says lawmakers in both parties have found fault with the governor’s orders during the pandemic.

“Democrats want to be able to tell the governor that he’s mismanaged the entire operation,” Rottinghaus said.

“Republicans are frustrated because they want to have some say in the matter, and there’s a worry that governing by executive order is not as efficient as it should be,” he added.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said that the governor likely reversed his statewide mask mandate and business occupancy restrictions, in part, to appease lawmakers.

“He did see some of these bills filed in the early days of the Legislature and wanted to take some of the air out of the balloon,” Jillson said.

“Rather than allow the Legislature to sort of angrily limit his authority, he’s saying, ‘Let’s work together to do this,’” he said.

Jillson noted that the governor’s powers are still relatively weak compared to those of the Legislature but said that it remains to be seen if Abbott will push back against any of these bills.

“The governor has already been speaking to some of these issues and has been quite meek,” Jillson said.

“It’s entirely possible that multiple bills will pass, and the governor will be in a position to veto one or two of them, let others through that he’s more comfortable with,” he added.

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