86th LegislatureIssuesState HouseState SenateThe Back MicThe Back Mic: Letters from Legislators Promote Varying Priorities During Pandemic

This week — A look at the letters legislators are writing during the coronavirus pandemic, and the issues they're focusing on.
April 24, 2020
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Faced with the reality of a global pandemic disrupting day-to-day societal operations and limited ability to institute policy outside of a legislative session, many legislators have taken to writing letters to advocate for change, voice disapproval, or publish suggestions or proposed policy. Here’s a look at some of the topics being discussed and elevated by elected officials across the state. 

Making COVID-19 a Presumptive Illness for First Responders

Since the rise of coronavirus, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) have advocated for making COVID-19 “a presumptive illness in the state of Texas.” Specifically, the organization has pleaded with Governor Abbott to make the designation in order to protect and cover first responders on the front lines, who, CLEAT argues, often serve in their capacity as essential workers without access to the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and likely wouldn’t know whether they contracted COVID-19 on the job.

Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos’ letter

State Reps. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), and state Sens. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) and Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) have all sent letters to Abbott requesting the designation be made.

Harris County Mask Order

The Texan Mug

Earlier this week, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) announced new orders requiring residents to wear face coverings when in public

The move was met with both criticism and support from state legislators. 

State Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) penned a letter to the governor and Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the state leaders to supersede the order, stating that “My constituents are, frankly, outraged by this overreach.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) actively called for Harris County leaders to institute a face mask requirement prior to Hidalgo’s announcement. Citing similar orders in other parts of Texas, Thierry said, “As the most populated county and city in our state, I believe that we should be equally as prudent to reduce the community spread of COVID-19 in our region.”

Legislator Asks Abbott to Reopen Small Businesses

After Governor Abbott announced retail-to-go options, Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) penned a letter to the governor imploring him to reopen all small businesses in Texas. 

“The most recent executive orders were a disappointment to small businesses stranded and struggling to stay afloat. Our small businesses, formerly employing over 45% of Texans, are the ones most threatened to close permanently by the government mandated shut down,” wrote Biedermann. 

“The rights of all citizens are being violated right now by the Federal, State, and local governments. People are getting restless.”

Senate Democrats Urge Abbott to Expand Medicaid 

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus sent a letter to the governor advocating he “immediately increase access to healthcare” and “expand Medicaid.”

Citing Texas’ high uninsured rate and the recent rise of COVID-19, the legislators wrote that the “question is not whether we should expand Medicaid but, rather, how.”

All 12 Democrat state senators signed the letter: Sens. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), Borris Miles (D-Houston), Beverly Powell, José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Royce West (D-Dallas), John Whitmire (D-Houston), and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). 

San Antonio Legislators Advocate for Local Food Bank

A bevy of Bexar County state legislators, led by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), sent a bipartisan letter to the governor asking that he approve a State of Texas Assistance Request (STAR) from the San Antonio Food Bank.

The request was for “171 truckloads of food to combat growing concerns of food depletion during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

State Sens. Pete Flores, José Menéndez, and Judith Zaffirini, as well as state Reps. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio), Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio), and Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) all signed their names to the letter.

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McKenzie Taylor

McKenzie Taylor

McKenzie Taylor serves as Operations Manager and resident plate-spinner for The Texan. Previously, she worked as State Representative Kyle Biedermann’s Capitol Director during the 85th legislative session before moving to Fort Worth to manage Senator Konni Burton’s campaign. In her free time, you might find her enjoying dog memes, staring at mountains, or proctoring personality tests.