AUSTIN — State Representative Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) filed House Bill 665 to require state agencies to obtain legislative approval to renew emergency rules adopted during a state of disaster, such as hospital visitation restrictions that have been imposed recently.
“I heard far too many tragic and sad stories from Texans who were prevented from being with their loved ones in a hospital during their final moments,” Landgraf said. “I advocated for our local physicians and hospital administrators to be able to have the flexibility to be able to implement their own visitation rules based on the prevalence of the coronavirus in their area. However, there was little I could do because the current law allowed a state bureaucracy to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire state without any legislative oversight or public input whatsoever. HB 665 will change that.”
In March of this year, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) adopted an emergency rule that required hospitals to prohibit visitors who were not providing critical assistance. Current law allows state agencies to adopt emergency rules without prior notice or hearing if the agency finds that there is imminent peril to public health or safety. Such rules can be effective for 120 days and can be renewed once for 60 days. This proved to be untenable for thousands of Texans who were prevented from visiting family in hospitals throughout the state in 2020.
“The policy that locked them out was not a law adopted by an elected body or even an executive order issued by the governor, it was a decision made behind closed doors by an unelected bureaucracy,” Landgraf continued. “House Bill 665, if passed, will ensure there is sufficient public oversight over state agencies during times of disaster in Texas so that this sort of thing never happens again.”
HB 665 specifies that, during times in which at the governor has declared a state of disaster for at least 75% of Texas counties, agency emergency rules can only be effective for 30 days, and cannot be renewed unless approved by a majority vote of a joint hearing of the standing committees of each house of the legislature with primary jurisdiction over the agency seeking to renew the emergency rule.
Landgraf and the other members of the Texas legislature will convene for the 87th Texas Legislative Session on January 12, 2021. Members of the Texas House and Texas Senate may begin filing bills for the 2021 legislative session as early as November 9, 2020. The Texas legislature meets at the Texas Capitol building for a 140-day regular session beginning the second Tuesday in January every odd-numbered year to vote on proposed legislation and pass a balanced state budget.