Abbott explains reasoning behind extending his COVID-19 disaster declaration

In a Thursday morning interview with Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty, Gov. Greg Abbott said that he’ll leave his COVID-19 emergency declarations intact until the Texas Legislature bans mask and vaccine mandates.

The governor renewed his COVID-19 disaster declaration on January 15 — a tradition that will turn three years old in March.

Asked why he continues extending the orders, Abbott said it was biding time, for three reasons: for the Legislature to “codify his order” that prohibits public or private vaccine and mask mandates, for the body to pass a state version of the federal Title 42 policy, and for the Texas Supreme Court to rule on his lawsuits against school districts that implemented such mandates.

If his orders are withdrawn, the governor said, those localities and private businesses may resume their vaccine and mask mandate policies and the lawsuit would become moot.

Additionally, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has issued her own order with various directives claiming to last for 14 days after the governor’s orders are rescinded. One of those, GA-13, counteracted one of Harris County’s directives that prison inmates be released to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s unclear how that will be affected by the rescission of Abbott’s declaration and orders, but the Legislature is pining to pass bail and personal bond restrictions this session against local governments like Harris County that have deployed, or have tried to deploy loose release policies.

State Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) filed House Bill (HB) 1491 that would establish a state version of Title 42, the federal provision that allows the government to expel illegal immigrants from the U.S. under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Biden administration to continue enforcing the provision, staying a lower court ruling that it be ceased.

The fight over mask and vaccine mandates has been long drawn out. Most recently, Abbott has called on the Legislature to pass its own ban, adding it to the special session call in October 2021.

The Legislature did not pass that ban during its truncated session, which focused mostly on redistricting.

This position differed from his position only a couple of months before, in which a spokesman voiced opposition to placing a vaccine mandate prohibition against private entities.

It also contrasts with the governor’s own mask mandate issued in July 2020 that he rescinded in March 2021 — issued after Abbott stated the “government cannot require individuals to wear masks.” Since then, Abbott has tried to crack down on local orders, including his GA-40 order that prohibits any vaccine mandates; that order states he will rescind it once the Legislature acts.

One of the lawsuits Abbott references is the State of Texas v. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, filed against said official who issued such mandates.

The Legislature began the 88th Legislative Session this month, which adjourns sine die on May 29. Until then, the members have the chance to pass vaccine and mask mandate bans once and for all — until which date, the governor’s orders will continue to be renewed.

Most legislation passed takes effect the following September or January after the session, but if they get enough support, those laws may take effect immediately. How long Abbott renews his orders depends not only on the passage of these laws, but also on how much support they garner in the Legislature.

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