Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is considering proposing legislation to provide civil liability protections to business owners who have had to work under restrictive conditions as a result of the ongoing shutdown he first imposed in March.
At a news conference in San Antonio, Abbott gave no indication that he intends on lifting the state’s emergency order restrictions or mask mandate anytime soon. The governor’s emergency order requires businesses to operate at less than full capacity while still also being responsible for paying full operating costs and taxes with less revenue.
The governor met with construction workers and small business leaders during what his office pitched was a “listening session.”
But various trade associations that have argued that their respective industries cannot continue to operate at less than full capacity, especially when big box stores are operating at full capacity, were not present.
More details about legislative proposals will be announced in the next few weeks, Abbott said, one of which includes offering legal protection for business owners that “operated in good faith during the pandemic” and are facing potential lawsuits. He said they “shouldn’t have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits” without going into any details.
Abbott also said that the state legislature should identify which nonpandemic-related regulations that were temporarily repealed during the COVID-19 shutdown should remain permanently repealed. The Texas Public Policy Foundation has proposed that many of the repealed or relaxed regulations remain permanent, reducing burdens on small businesses and workers.
“Despite the challenges our state has faced over the past year, Texas remains the economic engine of America,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texas businesses have gone above and beyond to operate safely, and it is crucial that we continue to foster an environment that allows them to succeed.”
Last year, more than 65 state legislators asked the governor to reopen the state and at least consider amending aspects of the emergency order to help small businesses in their districts. The governor still has not replied to their request.
JoAnn Fleming, director of the state’s largest grassroots conservative coalition, Grassroots America – We the People PAC, told The Center Square, “Listening is valuable to a leader when it’s real and not for political theater. Sadly, Gov. Abbott has for six months purposefully ignored the pleas of business owners, families with loved ones isolated in extended care facilities, and Texans desperately needing non-COVID-19 health care the governor deemed ‘elective.’”
Since March, more than 8,900 businesses have permanently closed in Texas, according to a recent Yelp analysis, with another 5,300 reporting temporary closures as a direct result of the state’s shutdown orders issued by the governor. The numbers are most likely higher due to several factors, Yelp notes.
Business owners and state leaders argue that many of the jobs lost during business closures are not coming back, and that any new legislation to protect them from litigation is meaningless when many already filed for bankruptcy or permanently closed their doors.
“The Governor favored Big Box over small businesses every single time,” Fleming said, because every day Texans contact her organization all the time. “Many have lost everything they have because he insists on not opening up. How do we know? Because we hear from these Texans. Somebody needs to listen to the ‘little guys,’ not just the people who can write big industry checks.”
“Texas needs to fully reopen now,” Jared Woodfill, the Houston-based attorney representing business owners who have sued Abbott over executive orders, told The Center Square. “Instead, Governor Abbott is locking businesses back down. It is time for the Texas Legislature to hold Governor Abbott accountable and undo his disaster proclamation.
“It is time for the Legislature to remove Abbott’s unlimited power and amend the Texas Disaster Act. We cannot allow Abbott or any other elected official to act as a king. Despite pleas from his constituents and other legislators, Abbott continues to ignore the Constitution and go at it alone. The hundreds of bar owners and restaurants I represent have been sentenced to bankruptcy while these same folks continue to pay Abbott’s salary, provide him his mansion, guarantee his healthcare, and foot the bill for his driver. How can a politician be so tone deaf to the needs of the people he is suppose to represent?”