The next session of the Texas Legislature doesn’t begin until January, but senators are already putting their heads together to come up with solutions in response to the effects of the pandemic on Texans.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has named each senator to participate in a Senate workgroup on topics related to the pandemic. Senators will be discussing Senate pandemic preparedness; economic impact and budgeting; public schools and higher education; health, hospitals and COVID-19 issues; jobs and reopening the economy; and the food supply chain, food banks and agriculture.
“COVID-19 has changed our lives in Texas and in America in ways that will continue to impact us going forward as we reopen our state,” Patrick said in a news release. “I have asked every senator to work together in small discussion groups — using a think tank model — to discuss the challenges Texas will face in the next legislative session as a result of the pandemic. The Texas Senate is committed to making sure our state continues to lead, not only in combating this awful disease but also in making sure our economy can move forward.”
The workgroups will be a way for senators to focus on specific challenges and come up with creative solutions and answers together. It will be less about creating legislation, Patrick said.
Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) said his workgroup has already started discussing the issues via conference call. He is assigned to the workgroup on Health, Hospitals, and COVID-19 Issues.
“In the short term, we need to quickly get to a point where widespread testing is available on-demand for everyone in this state, “ Miles said in an email. “That’s the only way we can safely reopen the state and quickly identify and isolate hot spots.”
He emphasized that more testing is a priority to understand a true picture of the spread of the disease, especially in certain communities.
“Largely African American communities in my district have no state-driven testing available, and they have the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Harris County,” Miles noted.
Although he is not on the Senate pandemic preparedness workgroup, Miles also mentioned that in the long term, Texans must look ahead and be prepared for the next pandemic, especially if a seasonal resurgence or reinfection of the virus is possible.
“We need to create a state stockpile for PPEs (personal protective equipment). We need to develop policies to make sure state-licensed facilities like nursing homes and child care centers are ready to keep our seniors and children safe during a health emergency,” Miles said.
Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, is assigned to the workgroup on economic budgeting and impact.
“Texans never back down from a challenge,” she said. “Our first priority is to protect the public, but we need to set a plan in motion to safely re-open businesses, get people back to work and make this economy roar again.”
“We will make sure agencies have the resources they need, but we must safeguard the purse strings to ensure we are meeting our needs, maximizing federal dollars, and providing relief without creating new permanent entitlements. I am confident we will revive the Texas miracle and get the Lone Star State back open for business.”