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Texas House Rules Adopted, With Unique Changes For COVID-19

Chairs inside the Capitol in Austin.

New rules and procedures by the Texas House of Representatives outlined what the 87th legislative session could look like in a pandemic.

The Texas House unanimously adopted rules on Thursday to ensure members' health and safety.

Representatives Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), Ana Hernandez (D- Houston), Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) and Joe Moody (D-El Paso) proposed HR- 4, which outlines the rules and procedures of the 87th legislative session. The House voted to pass the rules proposal 141-0.

Notably, on both the House floor and in committee meetings, face masks will be required for all persons. However, speakers may take off their masks to talk at the front and back microphone podiums.

Some members of the House proposed amendments that would lessen the mask restrictions further. Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, attempted to strike language on requiring masks to be worn “at all times." Meanwhile, Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, tried to include the same exemptions proposed by Governor Greg Abbott for the state of Texas, in the House chambers.

The House ruled that constituents or speakers can continue to visit the Capitol to provide public comment, as long as masks are worn and social distancing is practiced.

Virtual testimony may also take place in committee meetings this session if a sworn statement is submitted, the witness files a copy of the statement beforehand and a two-way video-audio communication can be facilitated.

For members of the Senate, masks are required while on the floor but not at individual desks.

Rep. Hunter ended the session by commenting on testing procedures at the Capitol building.

“These rules don't contemplate testing because until testing is available in our courthouses and...schoolhouses, we cannot mandate it in the Texas House,” he said. “That is the people's House, and for us to prioritize (our) own health and safety above others would be wrong."

Although routine rapid COVID-19 testing took place on Tuesday upon entering the Capitol, there is ongoing debate on the issue.

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Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.