Legislative Hotline Jan. 15: House Adopts Mask Protocol for New Session, Announces Electronic Comment Portal
By Joey Berlin

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UNDER THE ROTUNDA 

The Texas Legislature finished its last business Thursday before a long early vacation, after the House of Representatives adopted rules for the 2021 session, including a mask requirement on the House floor and the option to electronically submit comments.

Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), one of the authors of the House rules, explained on the floor that the public would have access to a new portal system to submit testimony, if they can’t or don’t want to travel to Austin to testify in person.

“Under the new rules, the public may attend in person. They will have to follow the mask requirements and the health protocol. Two, they may attend through the portal. They also may be attending by invited virtual [testimony],” Representative Hunter said. “We’re doing a pretty good job, and it doesn’t prevent House administration or our offices to work on even a better way.”

Lawmakers may remove their masks when speaking at either the front or back microphones. Committee members can participate in hearings virtually, but must be in the committee room for votes.

So far, the rules contain no provisions requiring COVID-19 testing before entering the House, Representative Hunter explained. He noted that all visitors will have the option to get tested at no expense, and lawmakers will be provided tests so they can require a test from anyone who comes into their office, if they choose.

He said medical experts have determined that “no single health protocol, taken alone” will protect the Capitol from the virus. Tests were “a screen shot in time,” Representative Hunter said, and he noted masks, social distancing, and air purifiers in Capitol offices as other ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“These rules don’t contemplate testing because until testing is available in our courthouses and for teachers and administrators in our school houses, we cannot mandate it in the Texas House,” Representative Hunter said. “That is the people’s House. And for us … to prioritize our own health and safety above others would be wrong.”

Senate Committees Announced: The Texas Senate on Friday released its list of committee assignments, with two of the chamber's three physician-legislators – Sen. Dawn Buckingham, MD (R-Lakeway), and Sen. Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels) – securing spots on the Committee on Health & Human Services. On the panel, to be chaired by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and vice-chaired by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Drs. Buckingham and Campbell will serve alongside Sen. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso); Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood); Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston); Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson); and Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo).

Look for further analysis of this session’s committee assignments, and what they mean for medicine, in next week’s Hotline.

The House and Senate are adjourned until Jan. 26.

BECOME AN ADVOCATE 

There are a number of ways you can get involved with the Texas Medical Association’s advocacy during this session. Visit TMA’s Grassroots Action Center to find out how to become a grassroots advocate for medicine. You also can be part of TMA’s monthly “white coat takeover” – virtually this year – as a participant in First Tuesday’s at the Capitol. For complete information on TMA’s advocacy tools and resources, visit the TMA Texas Legislature page.

Last Updated On

January 20, 2021

Originally Published On

January 15, 2021

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Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393
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Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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