Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster Friday, March 13 as the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic spread to all of the state's biggest cities.
A series of Executive Orders were announced Thursday, March 19 relating to preparedness and mitigation.
Throughout the week, the Governor's Office has taken action to address the many concerns that accompany this public health emergency:
Monday, March 16
Governor allows virtual and telephonic open meetings
Gov. Greg Abbott acted Monday, March 16 to maintain government transparency and continued government operations while reducing face-to-face contact for government open meetings. As Texas works to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Governor granted the Office of the Attorney General’s request for suspension of certain open-meeting statutes.
This temporary suspension will allow for telephonic or videoconference meetings of governmental bodies that are accessible to the public in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that assemble large groups of people.
"Even as the State of Texas takes precautionary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, we also have a responsibility to maintain government transparency," Abbott said.
"With today’s action, Texas is reducing non-essential in-person contact for a limited period, while ensuring that state and local government entities continue to work to fulfill necessary functions and with full transparency for the people of Texas. I urge state and local officials to do their part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding meetings that bring people into large group settings."
In accordance with section 418.016 of the Texas Government Code, Abbott has suspended various provisions that require government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location. This temporary suspension will leave important open-meeting protections in place:
Members of the public will be entitled to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or videoconference meeting.
To hold a telephonic or videoconference meeting, a governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, and that includes an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting.
A governmental body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or videoconference meeting.
Officials who hold videoconference meetings are encouraged to provide for participation via telephone for members of the public without videoconferencing capability. If officials are not holding a telephonic or videoconference meeting, all open-meeting requirements apply.
State and local officials who have questions about open-meeting requirements after this suspension should submit them to the Office of the Attorney General via e-mail at TOMA@oag.texas.gov, or by leaving a message at 888-672-6787.
Officials with questions about teleconference and videoconference capabilities offered by the Texas Department of Information Resources should visit dir.texas.gov or call 512-475-4700.
Gov. Abbott waives STAAR testing requirements
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday, March 16 that he has waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year. Additionally, Abbott is requesting that the Department of Education waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year.
Abbott is working closely with the Texas Education Agency to ensure that schools continue to deliver instruction to students while students are absent or while schools are closed because of COVID-19. This includes tailoring instruction for students with special needs so that they have access to the same education as other students in the district.
Abbott will continue to work with the TEA on developing additional methods to ensure that students are learning and ready to succeed at the next grade-level. These discussions are ongoing and more information will be provided as it develops.
"Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty, and their families," Abbott said. "We will empower schools to make the best decisions to protect their communities from COVID-19."
The move to waive testing requirements reflects the governor’s emphasis on public health over all other priorities at this time. In normal times, Texas’ assessment system provides educators and parents with reliable information on whether or not their students have mastered grade-level content. The Governor remains committed to ensuring parents, students, and school districts have access to this information in future years.
Superintendents should continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, faculty, and their families. Their leadership is an important part of our statewide efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect public health.
Governor Abbott Waives Certain Vehicle Registration, Titling, And Parking Placard Regulations In Texas
Governor Greg Abbott has announced Monday, March 16 that Texas is waiving certain rules relating to vehicle registration, parking placards for persons with disabilities, and titling to aid the state's efforts to combat COVID-19.
These suspensions will allow Texans to avoid penalties for failure to timely title or register a vehicle, or renew a parking placard. The waivers fall within the actions the Governor is taking under the State of Disaster he declared last week, and are part of Texas’ efforts to reduce in-person contact among Texans and slow the spread of COVID-19.
"The State of Texas continues to implement a comprehensive plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and that includes strategies to reduce preventable in-person contact," Abbott said. "By suspending these rules, Texans can avoid unnecessary crowds and in-person contact without fear of being penalized. We encourage all Texans to continue practicing social distancing and to take preventative actions to protect their health and the health of those around them."
The Governor will work with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure law enforcement officers throughout the state are aware of these waivers. The Department of Motor Vehicles will also continue to provide registration renewal services online at renew.txdmv.gov. For additional information, Texans should contact the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles at (888) 368-4689.
The following regulations and rules are suspended under the Governor's Disaster Declaration:
Registration and Title Requirements
Statutory Sections: Transportation Code §§501.145; 501.146; 502.040; 502.407; 502.471; and 502.473
Rules: 43 TAC §§217.4(a); TAC §217.28.
Renewal of Persons with Disabilities Parking Placards
Statutory Sections – Transportation Code §681.004; and §Transportation Code § 681.010.
30-Day Temporary Registration Permits
Statutory Sections – Transportation Code §502.095; and §502.471.
Tuesday, March 17
Governor Abbott Waives Certain Regulations For Telemedicine Care In Texas
Gov. Greg Abbott waived certain regulations Tuesday, March 17 and directed that the Texas Department of Insurance issue an emergency rule, all relating to telemedicine care for patients with state-regulated insurance plans to help doctors across Texas continue to treat their patients while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
The suspensions and emergency rule will work together to allow telemedicine visits for patients with state-regulated plans to be paid the same as in-office visits for insurance purposes. These actions build upon waivers the Governor issued last week of portions in the Occupations Code to expand provider flexibility in providing medical services over the phone.
“As the State of Texas responds to COVID-19, we continue to work to maintain regular health care services and operations throughout the state, and telemedicine is one of the most valuable tools we have to ensure Texans continue to receive the health services they need,”Abbott said. “Expanding telemedicine options will help protect the health of patients and health care professionals, and help Texas mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Doctors will be eligible for payment from insurance plans regulated by TDI for medical visits they conduct over the phone instead of in-person at the same rate they would receive for in-person visits.
Medical providers seeking guidance on the impact of the new rule can expect guidance from the Texas Medical Board to be issued in the coming days, including administrative guidance for billing to ensure that claims are processed smoothly.
Insurers seeking guidance on implementation of the emergency rule should contact TDI or visit their webpage for more information.
This coordinated efforts between the Office of the Governor, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Medical Board, and health insurance plans will increase access to health care for all Texans. Today’s action will expand telemedicine options by giving health care providers greater flexibility to perform audio-only telephone consultations with their patients.
As a reminder, Texans covered by CHIP or Medicaid will not be charged copays for test or telemedicine consults. Individuals covered by Medicare or large employer plans should check with their health plan administrator to determine their specific benefits.
Wednesday, March 18
Waiting Week and Search Requirements Waived for Unemployment Insurance
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott instructed the Texas Workforce Commission Wednesday, March 18 to waive the waiting week, for Unemployment Benefits. In addition to waiving the waiting week, TWC is exercising its authority under the Governor’s declaration of a Statewide Disaster to waive Unemployment Insurance work search requirements effective immediately. These measures support the State’s efforts to address the impact the COVID-19 virus is having on the state’s economy and its workforce.
The waiting week is the first payable week of an individual’s claim for Unemployment Benefits. Under normal circumstances, TWC cannot pay for the first week of a claim until an individual receives 2 times their weekly benefit amount and returns to full-time work or has exhausted their benefits. However, by waiving the waiting week, Abbott has provided the opportunity for TWC to provide relief to Texans who need it.
Previously to be eligible for unemployment benefits, applicants were required to register for work search on WorkinTexas.com and meet minimum number of work search activities per week. TWC is temporarily waving these requirements to ensure all Texans can have access to resources when in need.
Those seeking to apply for Unemployment Benefits will need to submit an application. In order to apply you will need:
Last employer's business name and address
First and last dates (month, day and year) you worked for your last employer
Number of hours worked and pay rate if you worked this week (including Sunday)
Information related to your normal wage
Alien Registration Number (if not a U.S. citizen or national)
Once you have an unemployment benefits claim, you can sign up for Electronic Correspondence for online access to your unemployment benefits correspondence. Electronic Correspondence allows you to receive most, but not all, of your unemployment notices and forms electronically in a secure, online mailbox. You are responsible for regularly checking your online inbox, regardless of whether you receive an email notifying you of new mail. All Electronic Correspondence documents are also available as accessible versions for visually impaired customers.
Job seekers can call their local Workforce Solutions office for access to job-search resources, job postings and training programs, as well as assistance with exploring career options, résumé and application preparation, career development and more. Customers also may connect with potential employers through TWC’s online job-search engine, by visiting WorkinTexas.com.
The Texas Workforce Commission is a state agency dedicated to helping Texas employers, workers and communities prosper economically. For details on TWC and the services it offers in coordination with its network of local workforce development boards, call 512-463-8942 or visit www.texasworkforce.org
Governor Abbott, DPS Waive Expiration Dates for Driver Licenses
Governor Greg Abbott announced Wednesday, March 18 that he has directed the Department of Public Safety to temporarily waive expiration dates for Driver Licenses, Commercial Driver Licenses, and other identification forms. This action falls within the Governor’s State of Disaster Declaration and is part of the ongoing effort to reduce to spread of COVID-19.
“Our top priority remains public health and safety, and we will continue to take action to ensure that Texans can avoid large public gatherings,” Abbott said. “Texas is at a pivotal moment in the response to COVID-19, and by temporarily delaying Driver License renewals we will help limit non-essential trips into public settings and slow the spread of this virus.”
This suspension will be in effect until 60 days after the DPS provides further public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed.
Governor Abbott Announces Temporary Closure Of Driver License Offices
Gov. Greg Abbott Thrusday announced that Texas Department of Public Safety Driver License Offices across the state are closing immediately. This temporary closure will not apply to those seeking an initial Commercial Driver License. DPS offices that provide CDL testing will remain open solely for the purpose of providing initial CDLs. Visits will be by appointment only, and can be scheduled by emailing email@example.com. This exception will allow commercial drivers to continue to ship goods across the state of Texas.
This announcement follows the Governor's suspension of certain provisions of the Texas Transportation Code to delay the expiration date for driver licenses, commercial driver licenses, and other identification documents.
"Our commercial drivers are essential to the consistent flow of goods throughout the state, and we will continue to ensure those seeking an initial CDL can do so," Abbott said. "Closing driver license offices to those not seeking an initial CDL is another step the state is taking to encourage social distancing in our communities."
Though expiration dates have been temporarily suspended, individuals seeking to renew their driver license or personal identification certificate during this period should check the DPS website to see if they are eligible to renew online.
Thursday, March 19
Governor Abbott Issues Executive Orders In Accordance With Federal Guidelines To Mitigate Spread Of COVID-19 In Texas
Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday announced a series of Executive Orders relating to COVID-19 preparedness and mitigation. The four orders serve to limit public gatherings and help reduce exposure for people across the state. These orders are in accordance with federal guidelines issued by the President and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will aid in the state's efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Abbott was joined for the announcement by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Commissioner Hellerstedt also announced that he has declared a Public Health Disaster which will give state and local officials additional tools to respond to COVID-19. The Governor's Executive Orders, combined with the Public Health Disaster, provide Texas with enhanced tools and protocols to help state and local partners in their ongoing efforts to respond to, track the progress of, and limit the spread of COVID-19 in Texas.
"The State of Texas is at a pivotal moment in our response to COVID-19, and it is imperative that we act now on preemptive measures to slow the spread of this virus," Abbott said. "One of the most effective ways we can do this is by promoting more social distancing and ensuring Texans avoid large group settings such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and schools where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is high. We must also continue to protect our most vulnerable populations, which is why the State of Texas is barring all visitations at nursing homes and retirement or long-term care facilities except in the case of critical assistance. Today’s executive orders are precautionary measures that are in line with guidelines from the CDC and they will strengthen Texas’ ability to safeguard our communities and respond to COVID-19. As Texans, we must continue to work collaboratively to slow the spread of this virus and protect public health."
The following orders have been issued by Gov. Abbott:
Order No. 1: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
Order No. 2: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, that the use of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order.
Order No. 3: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
Order No. 4: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall temporarily close.
These orders will be effective on a statewide basis starting at 11:59 p.m. on March 20, 2020 and will end at 11:59 p.m. on April 3, 2020, subject to extension thereafter based on the status of COVID-19 in Texas and the recommendations of the CDC.
This executive order does not prohibit people from visiting a variety of places, including grocery stores, gas stations, parks, and banks, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. This executive order does not mandate sheltering in place. All critical infrastructure will remain operational, domestic travel will remain unrestricted, and government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services.
For offices and workplaces that remain open, employees should practice good hygiene and, where feasible, work from home in order to achieve optimum isolation from COVD-19. The more that people reduce their public contact, the sooner COVID-19 will be contained and the sooner this executive order will expire.
Under Chapter 81 of the Health and Safety Code, Commissioner Hellerstedt's Public Health Disaster Declaration triggers a number of important tools for state and local officials to respond to COVID-19:
Texas and local health authorities can more easily require property owners to disinfect, decontaminate, and seal off property that might be contaminated.
It authorizes health authorities to take additional control measures that they see fit to control and eradicate the threat to public health.
It streamlines the process for state and local health authorities to invoke the courts to enforce quarantines of individuals.
Activates enhanced tools for DSHS to collect disease and health information and to share that information with law enforcement personnel and first responders as appropriate.
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