AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Capitol may feel even quieter than it usually does during the 19-month break between sessions.
The state’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick put a temporary pause on senate hearings amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in Texas on Monday. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Lt. Gov. Patrick consulted with committee chairmen over the weekend and decided to postpone upcoming committee hearings for the next few weeks,” Patrick spokesperson Steven Aranyi wrote in an email Monday.
“Public testimony is important — we want to hear the voice of every Texan and make sure they are comfortable traveling to committee hearings,” Aranyi wrote. “There is adequate time in the interim for the committees to complete their work.”
“Lt. Gov. Patrick believes this step is the prudent thing to do at this time as Texas continues ongoing efforts to contain and mitigate the impact of COVID-19,” he concluded.
The move postpones gatherings of the senate’s Mass Violence Prevention & Community Safety committee on Tuesday, as well as upcoming meetings for the Finance, Higher Education and Redistricting committees. Future hearings are in limbo based on the timeline.
State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, an emergency room physician, chairs the Veteran Affairs & Border Security Committee. She is a member of seven other committees, including the panel which was cancelled for Tuesday.
“Senators, committee chairs and the Lieutenant Governor want to make sure that any Texan who wants to testify at a hearing is able to get there,” Campbell said by phone on Monday. “It’s not out of a fear of the spread at all. I think the state has that under good control.”
“If they can avoid being in close contact with people being in large crowds, then that’s what’s recommended by the CDC and physicians,” she explained.
Campbell said senators are expected to schedule new public hearings sometime in mid or late April.
“So that people will feel comfortable either flying or driving or being around the larger group, so I would expect more toward the first of May,” Campbell mentioned. “That is trying to predict how comfortable people will feel around other folks in the next few weeks.”
Meanwhile, the state’s House committee on Public Health will meet Tuesday to hear “invited testimony to discuss the state’s preparedness on the coronavirus.”
The House’s committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety scheduled for Wednesday in Houston was also cancelled, according to the committee’s director, Laramie Stroud.
According to Stroud, the meeting was nixed “out of an abundance of caution for the dozens of members, witnesses, and public attendees who planned to travel amid the ongoing coronavirus health concerns.”
“The House Select Committee will evaluate plans for rescheduling the hearing, which was focused on examining the state’s workforce needs related to cyber-security, mental health, and law enforcement,” Stroud said. “In the meantime, Chairman Drew Darby and committee staff are committed to continuing the committee’s efforts and working with those who had planned to participate in the discussion.”
A panel of lawmakers making up the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services committee met Monday despite the pending cancellations for other committees.
“We had a meeting today, and, you know, and it just comes down to: everyone needs to make their own decisions,” State Rep. Gene Wu, who serves on the committee, said Monday. “I think everyone’s responsible for themselves at minimum.”
“We’re asking people to take reasonable precautions, but don’t go nuts,” Wu said.
“If you’re a hugger, maybe move back to a handshake,” he said.
“One of the most important things we’re asking people to do is be part of the team,” Wu said. “If you are not feeling well, don’t go into work, don’t expose your coworkers who are stuck in a closed environment. If your kids have the sniffles, don’t send them to school, please. And this is one of the things we’re asking everyone. This is not just on your local governments. Everyone has to take a role in helping out.”
Public health professionals suggest Texans wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and avoid physical contact.
More information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on combating coronavirus can be found at CDC.gov.
A spokesperson for the Texas State Preservation Board, which operates the Capitol grounds, indicated visitor traffic has been steady, and only a few groups have cancelled their scheduled visits “as a result of their own risk protocols.”
“The agency understands the seriousness of the epidemic and has increased efforts to wipe down shared surfaces regularly throughout its facilities,” director of special projects, Chris Currens, said.
“We are also reminding all agency staff to practice safe hygiene behaviors such as covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and staying home if they are feeling sick,” Currens wrote in an email.