In face of COVID-19, Senate cancels meetings, while House leaves cancellations up to committee chairs

The halls of the Texas Capitol will be significantly quieter this March as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has cancelled all Senate Committee meetings for the month, amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. A spokesperson for Patrick specifically cited the integral role public testimony has in regards to the committee meetings and the potential danger such meetings would pose to the public as reasoning behind the cancellations.

This past week, meetings for the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety and the Standing Senate Committee on Education were cancelled. In the upcoming weeks, meetings of the Finance, Higher Education, and Redistricting Committees will be postponed until after the Lt. Governor deems it safe for regular business at the Capitol to resume.

This week, the Education Committee was set to discuss the expansion of adult education access in the state as well as the implementation of Senate Bill 11, which prioritizes student safety and mental health treatment in public schools. Perhaps the most important bill to be discussed was House Bill 3, the comprehensive school finance bill passed in the previous legislative session. The Higher Education meeting that was scheduled for March 24 was also set to discuss the expansion of adult education access.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has left the decision of whether to cancel committee meetings up to the discretion of the respective chairs of those committees, but strongly urged the committee chairs to consider the possible health risks and the impact coronavirus might have on the potential turnout for public testimony. As of yet, the only house committee meeting to have been definitively cancelled is the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety scheduled for this past Wednesday.