Gov. Abbott Lifts COVID Restrictions, Broadband and Winter Storm Legislation Moves Forward
Week In Review
Governor Greg Abbott took executive action on COVID-19 protocols. Legislative hearings continued in response to Winter Storm Uri, and lawmakers introduced new broadband policy proposals to expand Texans' access to the Internet.
Governor Abbott Lifts COVID Restrictions
On Tuesday, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34, which stated, in brief, that effective March 10, 2021, a.) there are no COVID-19-related capacity limits for any business or other establishment; and b.) face coverings are no longer required, although individuals are strongly encouraged to wear them when social distancing is not possible. Per the Order, businesses are free to limit capacity or require face coverings if they so choose. The Executive Order allows certain mitigation steps to be taken if an area has had seven consecutive days with more than 15 percent of hospital capacity occupied by COVID-19 patients. Currently, only two regions (El Paso and Laredo) meet that standard.
In response, Partnership President and CEO, Bob Harvey issued the following statement:Â
âWhile we in the Houston area have seen considerable improvement since January in terms of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and we are pleased that the three approved vaccines are beginning to reach the most at-risk populations, we should recognize that the majority of the regional population is still at risk of contracting the virus.
We believe that our masking and social distancing behaviors are helping drive down the prevalence of the virus even as we see an increasing presence of the worrisome variants. We have been following the advice of health care professionals throughout the pandemic and believe it is simply too early for us to forgo these actions.Â
We at the Partnership encourage Houstonians to stay the course, continue masking and social distancing, and we encourage customer-facing businesses to continue to require masks and limit crowding. Letâs continue to be responsible, with or without state requirements.â
Legislative hearings on Winter Storm Uri continued this week. The industry continues to provide feedback and data from the power outages and has begun to propose solutions to improve ERCOT and the state electric grid. At the request of the Legislature, recommendations from state electrical market leaders are forthcoming. While more than 50 bills relating to the winter storm have already been filed as of Thursday, we expect the primary legislative vehicle will take shape over the next week few weeks. The last day to file bills is Friday, March 12, but it is not uncommon for lawmakers to file a âshellâ bill as a placeholder and introduce actual legislation during the committee process. Among those bills already filed, most address the governance of ERCOT or the Public Utility Commission. Other bills propose mandatory reserve capacity, winterization of energy facilities and statutory restrictions on the time customers are allowed to be without power during periods of rolling blackouts.Â
The Legislatureâs effort to address the digital divide received a boost this week when Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) filed House Bill 5. This bill is expected to be the primary vehicle for broadband legislation and includes the two primary objectives outlined by the Partnership and the Digital Texas Coalition â creation of a statewide broadband office and the authorization of a long-term statewide broadband plan. Â
Additionally, the bill requires the creation of a grant program to facilitate investment in broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. Partnership staff have been working to expand the grant program to include affordability and require equitable distribution of grant funds to both rural and urban areas of the state. The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs chaired by Representative Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who is a joint author of the legislation. We anticipate this legislation will be heard in committee in the next few weeks.
Learn more aboutÂ the PartnershipâsÂ Executive Priorities.