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 Governor has not issued a "shelter-in-place" order, however several counties have done so. The County Information Program has compiled a list detailing which counties have issued disaster declarations or related orders. These orders may serve as a templates for other local orders. Many states and localities have exempted certain "critical infrastructure" in their "shelter in place" orders.

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.

Open Meetings

The Governor has suspended various provisions that require government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location. This will allow the members of the commissioners court to participate remotely without a quorum being physically present at the meeting and will allow a meeting to be conducted without public attendance at the meeting. However, certain conditions still apply:

  • Members of the public will be entitled to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or videoconference meeting.
  • To hold a telephonic or videoconference meeting, a governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, and that includes an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting.
  • A governmental body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or videoconference meeting.

Officials with questions about teleconference and videoconference capabilities offered by the Texas Department of Information Resources' (DIR) can visit their website or call (512) 475-4700. Additionally, Google is currently offering their remote meeting software free to government entities for 90 days. Contact the Texas Local Government sales representative, Tim Spencer, at (512) 592-9693.

County officials who have questions about open meeting requirements after this suspension should submit them to the Office of the Attorney General via e-mail at TOMA@oag.texas.gov, or by leaving a message at (888) 672-6787.

For detailed information, see our Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) During 2020 COVID-19 Outbreak publication.

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

In order 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.

The Department of State Health Services (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

The Governor has issued a proclamation authorizing (but not requiring) all political subdivisions holding general or special elections on May 2 to postpone that election to the November 3 uniform election date. The postponement of your election does not happen automatically; the governing body of the political subdivision must take an official action for such a change to be effective. Officials should probably make the decision before the start of early voting on April 20.

The Elections Division of the Secretary of State's Office has issued Advisory 2020-12 - Actions for May 2, 2020, Uniform Election Date which provides guidance to political subdivisions seeking to move their May 2 election date in accordance with the Governor's proclamation. Officials who have questions may reach the Elections Division of the Secretary of State at (800) 252-8683.

On March 24, 2020, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State issued a letter clarifying questions related to the Governor's proclamation and Advisory 2020-12.

On April 1, 2020 the Elections Division of the Secretary of State issued a letter regarding Updated to COVID-19 Election Procedures.

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.

Emergency Order Regarding the Rules Of Judicial Education.

Jails

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has issues 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

More information on the Texas Open Meetings Act during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here.