As the Texas Legislature prepares to meet for the first time since the beginning of the Chinese coronavirus spread, there have been significant questions, speculation, and uncertainty around what a return would look like. On Friday, an anonymous survey revealed most Texas lawmakers favor some form of restricted access to the Texas Capitol.
There are many questions, but not a lot of answers. Will citizens be allowed to visit with lawmakers and testify at in-person committee hearings? Will legislators vote from the floor as usual, or be relegated to plexiglass bubbles? Or will they vote from their personal offices?
Texas Scorecard asked lawmakers what measures, if any, they expect or believe should occur in light of the coronavirus.
“This is a privilege but also a duty, and we have a duty to show up,” said State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Wallisville). “Teachers, grocery store workers, nurses and doctors, and so many others have to show up every day—it’s absurd to say the Legislature shouldn’t have to live by that same standard and gets to dodge working in person. We were all elected to do our job in person as part of our duty.”
He added, “That said, if anyone wants less people in the Capitol next session, start by keeping out all the lobbyists.”
State Rep. James White (R–Hillister) agreed: “Our precautions should not exceed the precautions of state employees, Texas classroom teachers and students, and those available to the sovereigns—the People of Texas.”
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington), who was hospitalized last month with the virus, says he expects to vote in person.
“I will be on the House floor working for my constituents and honestly believe most of my colleagues will be fine working as well,” said Tinderholt.
Other lawmakers, however, have expressed uncertainty over whether in-person proceedings can take place.
“Latinos are taking the brunt of this deadly pandemic. I see it every day in my industry,” said newly elected State Rep. Christina Morales (D–Houston), who works as the CEO of a funeral home. “I have anxiety about any part of the process that will happen in person. We must take every precaution to make sure our legislators and attendees are safe.”
When it comes to in-person committee hearings, State Rep. Steve Toth (R–Woodlands) says he would like to see both be an option.
“I like in-person, but I also like to do virtual, too, because I think there are … elderly people who can’t make it to the Capitol, even when there is no virus. So, I’d love to open up technology so that elderly people and people that can’t travel can have a say in their government,” said Toth.
“But I think we need to have in-person. And if there are people who have special considerations related to morbidity issues, then let them do it virtual. I don’t care,” he added.
Despite the session being just months away, and rumors flying around the Capitol over what a reopening will look like, lawmakers say they’ve been kept largely in the dark.
“We have no date, we have no plan, we have nothing going forward,” said State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood).
“We have not been told yet what’s going to happen,” said Toth. “I don’t expect that we’ll be given an option. I think it’s just going to be decreed.”