COVID-19 Guidance from TAC Legal Services

Local Disaster Declarations

The county judge may declare a local state of disaster. A declaration of local disaster may not be continued or renewed for a period of more than seven days without the consent of the commissioners court. A declaration of local disaster activates the appropriate recovery and rehabilitation aspects of all applicable local and interjurisdictional emergency management plans and authorizes the furnishing of aid and assistance under the declaration. Government Code Section 418.108.

The declaration by the president and the governor will qualify the county for any assistance; however, the administrative rules of the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) require a declaration of a local disaster before it will process an application for reimbursement. Texas Administrative Code Title 37, Ch 7, Rule §7.41. Counties should maintain an accounting of all expenses incurred as a result of the epidemic in case assistance is approved and issue a declaration of local disaster at some point. For more information and resources, see TDEM's Local Official Resources.

TDEM's Executive Guide provides guidance for local governments during a disaster, including detailed information regarding local steps to declare a disaster and federal assistance eligibility. See this excerpt regarding local guidance, or the full guide here.

The Office of the Attorney General has advised that orders issued by local officials in response to the COVID-19 disaster do not apply to restrict the conduct of state business. This guidance applies to all state agencies, their employees and their agents.

The Office of the Attorney General has issued AG Op. KP-0396, stating that county officials possess general emergency authority to control the movement of persons and the occupancy of premises in a local disaster area under Government Code section 418.108, such orders may not regulate or restrict the sale of firearms.

For detailed information regarding declarations, orders and enforcement, see our COVID-19 Disaster Declarations and Emergency Orders publication.

Attestation Regarding Increased Capacity

These requirements are outlined in the Governor's Report to Open Texas, and we have included the relevant excerpt here.

The attestation form including the supplemental county information, to be completed by the county judge, can be found on the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) website. We encourage county judges with questions about the attestation form to consult with the county attorney.

For additional information, see this updated FAQ from DSHS.

Disaster Relief

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law on March 11, 2021. The act established the $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which include $5.7 billion in direct aid from the U.S. Treasury Department to all 254 Texas counties. The Texas Association of Counties has created an American Rescue Plan Information & Resources webpage to track developments and provide updates as they become available.

Open Meetings

On June 30, 2021, the Office of the Attorney General announced that the suspension of certain provisions of the Open Meetings Act during the COVID-19 disaster would be lifted at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2021. For more information about the lifting of the suspensions, contact the Office of the Attorney General at (888) 672-6787 or via e-mail at TOMA@oag.texas.gov.

Emergency Meetings

In an emergency or when there is an urgent public necessity, the notice of a meeting to deliberate or take action on the emergency or public necessity (or supplemental notice to add the deliberation as an item to the agenda of a previously called meeting) may be posted as late as one hour before the meeting is scheduled to begin.

Public Information

To suspend the requirements of the Public Information Act for up to 14 calendar days, a governmental body must provide notice to the Office of the Attorney General. Their office has provided resources regarding the Public Information Act, including the Catastrophe Notice and the Update regarding the Calculation of Business Days and COVID-19.

Public Health

For detailed information regarding local health authorities, protected health information (PHI/HIPPA) and information shared with the public, see our Public Health Questions Related to COVID-19 publication.

DSHS has provided COVID-19 Fatality Management Recommendations for medical examiner offices, Justices of the Peace and funeral homes.

County Office Closures

The county may consider which essential county functions need to remain functional, with possible operational changes (e.g., reduced staff, scheduled filings and staggered shifts). In-person visits to most county offices may be limited; however, the constitutional provisions of the Open Courts Provision must be observed. See Resources for Courts below.
Also see TAC RMP's County Employer FAQs and Guidance Regarding COVID-19.

Elections

On April 14, 2020, the deputy attorney general for legal counsel in the Office of the Attorney General wrote a letter to the chair of the House Elections Committee concluding that fear of contracting COVID-19 unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Election Code for purposes of receiving a ballot by mail.

On May 15, 2020, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State issued a letter regarding the 2020 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Cares Act Sub-grant to Texas Counties.

On May 27, 2020, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State issued a notice regarding the health protocols for voters and health protocols for elections.

Finally, on June 18, 2020, the state issued further guidance to election officials concerning in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judicial Resources

The Health Law & Policy Institute (HLPI) at the University of Houston Law Center has provided a number of resources on their COVID-19 Pandemic Legal Resources for Texas webpage, including Control Measures and Public Health Emergencies: A Texas Bench Book, a Bench Book Supplement: Public Health Disaster and a special forms-only edition of the Bench Book for use by the Texas judiciary.

The Texas Justice Court Training Center has compiled a webpage with Coronavirus Updates, Information, and Resources, including information regarding magistration, eviction, and sample court orders.

Jails

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has issued a number of technical assistance memorandums related to COVID-19, including a Sample COVID-19 Screening Form.

Also see TAC RMP's COVID-19 Risk Reduction Response Protocols for County Law Enforcement and Jail Operations.

Resources for the Courts