The caucus invoked Article I, Section 33 of the Lone Star State’s Constitution, which confers to all Texans the right to access public beaches.
“Earlier this month, over the Fourth of July weekend, several local governments closed Texas public beaches in violation of both Texas law and the Texas Constitution. We write today to request that you enforce Article I, Section 33 of the Texas Constitution and the Texas Open Beaches Act (‘OBA’) against any future violations as the legislature intended,” the letter reads.
The mentioned constitutional amendment was ratified by voters in 2009 and is part of the state’s bill of rights.
“The public, individually and collectively, has an unrestricted right to use and a right of ingress to and egress from a public beach. The right granted by this subsection is dedicated as a permanent easement in favor of the public,” Article I, Sec. 33(b) says.
Some local governments have chosen to close portions of the state’s coastline at different periods of time throughout the pandemic, such as the City of Galveston’s decision to close its beaches for Independence Day.
“At this time, based on the current health situation and the guidance of medical professionals, I do not feel it is prudent or responsible to have thousands of visitors descending on Galveston beaches,” Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
“Galveston has and always will be a welcoming destination, but the ongoing public health crisis demands our attention and response. We have to prioritize health and safety.”
The legislators rebutted part of Galveston’s justification for closing its beaches, which included the claim that “the efficient allocation of personnel and resources to protect the public health and safety requires the closure of beaches.”
The Freedom Caucus said that insufficient funding for public health and limited workforce was not an excuse for infringing the right to come and go from the state’s public shoreline.
The GLO began mandating preapproval for beach closures when Texas began its phases of reopening on May 1.
Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), the chairman of the caucus, authored the letter on behalf of the remaining coalition members.
The Texas Freedom Caucus includes Middleton as well as Reps. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg), Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Mike Lang (R-Granbury), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Valoree Swanson (R-Spring), Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), and Bill Zedler (R-Arlington).
Update: The Texas Freedom Caucus received this response from Commissioner George P. Bush on August 1:
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."