May 6, 2020

Patrick Would Make Social Spacing Law of Land
with Safety Standards as Reopening Conditions

Texans Back to Work Report

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

A special coronavirus advisory group that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick assembled issued an extensive report on Wednesday that endorsed state-imposed mandates for social distancing and personal protective equipment with rigorous safety standards for businesses in exchange for limited liability in the midst of the pandemic and the possibility of fewer regulations in the future.

The Texans Back to Work Task Force that the Republican state Senate president tapped Dallas tax consultant Britt Ryan to chair presented its recommendations in a 113-page document that proposed sweeping adaptations that state government, businesses and individuals should prepare to make to get Texas back on track after being shutdown by the virus for most of the past two months.

The far-reaching scope of the Patrick panel proposed might come as a surprise to hardline conservatives who've been demanding an immediate end to all of the restrictions that Governor Greg Abbott implemented statewide in early April and only started to loosen in a very deliberate fashion last week.

Patrick had ignited a firestorm when he'd declared in a Fox News interview that older people would be glad to sacrifice their lives for the sake of kick-starting an economy that he claimed the state and local lockdown policies were destroying. Patrick rekindled the tempest in a follow-up appearance two weeks later when he suggested that a resurrected economy was more important than life itself.

The Patrick task force report makes a relatively swift and full-scale reopening conditional on standards that the state would set and businesses would be required to enforce in a concerted and collective effort to protect the public health.

"We strongly believe that the Texas economy can be safely and effectively reopened and restored to 100% in the not too distant future," the report declares with a long list of caveats that could be costly in the short run.

The Patrick panel backs the replacement of shelter-in-place orders with physical distancing requirements as well as new standards for PPE and sanitation in the workforce. This appears to run contrary to protests on the hard right against government interference in the marketplace and the arena of individual rights. Conservatives who've rallied against state and local restrictions during the pandemic have made it a point to be as close together at demonstrations across the nation where observers who were wearing masks were mocked and berated.

But the Patrick task force recommended that businesses require that all workers have their faces covered "if practical" while stocking up on PPE and screening employees for potential coronavirus infections with "continuous efforts" to obtain thermometers for the detection of fever for company that don't already have them.

"The primary purpose of masks is not to protect the wearer, but to protect people with whom the wearer comes near," the report says.

Abbott had already overturned mask orders that local leaders in the state's largest population centers had in place before the governor modified an executive order that ended stay-at-home orders on a statewide basis while allowing restaurants, movie theaters, retailers and malls to reopen late last week. The governor announced on Tuesday that barber shops and hair salons could open again on Friday while giving the green light to gyms, manufacturers and office buildings to reopen on May 18.

The Patrick task force proposed the initiation of a statewide system for contact tracing complete with recruiting and training standards and the enlistment of the Texas National Guard and public employees who've been furloughed but are still being paid.

Patrick vowed to have his advisors work in concert with the Abbott Strike Force to Open Texas that includes the lieutenant governor as a member.

"Texans have come together to reduce the spread of this awful virus and protect life," Patrick said. "Now we are coming together to make sure our economic comeback is strong so that every Texan can prosper and fulfill their dreams. Texans working together are a powerful force and I am confident we will succeed."

The Patrick advisory group contains some of the biggest contributors to Republican politics in Texas with Ryan as a prime example. Kelcy Warren - a Dallas energy executive who'd been a major donor to President Donald Trump - is a member of the lieutenant governor's task force that also includes Tim Dunn as a Midland oil firm owner who's been one of the tea party's largest contributors in Texas.

Another Patrick task force member - Woody Hunt of El Paso - has been associated more with the party establishment like a number of other panel appointees.


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