April 21, 2020
Republican from City with Highest Virus Rates
Eyes Potential Slashing of Pandemic Powers
By Mike Hailey
A powerful Texas lawmaker from a city that's been hit hard by the coronavirus vowed Tuesday to lead a push to restrict the powers that the top state and local leaders in Texas have during emergencies that aren't natural disasters.
State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock said in a hometown radio show that he plans to propose a reexamination and potential rewrite of the Texas law that delegates authority in declarations of disaster to the governor, mayors and county judges.
Burrows - a Republican who chairs the Ways & Means Committee in the state House - can expect the comments to be construed as a shot at Governor Greg Abbott as the Texas leader who's implemented a statewide stay-at-home order that hardline conservatives want him to cancel immediately.
Burrows said that he agreed with Abbott decisions to allow the sale of guns as an essential service while giving churches the right to conduct worship services with no limitations on the size of the gatherings. But Burrows suggested in an interview that Lubbock talk show host Chad Hastings conducted that the Texas disaster act that the governor and local leaders might have overstepped the bounds of the Texas disaster act's intent with the unprecedented clout that they've wielded since the coronavirus outbreak here.
Burrows argued that the state law in question had been designed for emergency operations in hurricanes and emergencies caused by other destructive forces of nature.
Lubbock has a lockdown that the city council approved and extended until the end of April when it expired early this month. The restrictions on business and social movement in the Burrows home base are basically the same as the Abbott statewide directive. The Abbott orders are based on the relatively cautious and deliberate federal guidelines that President Donald Trump endorsed last week when he deferred the major decisions on the reopening of individual states to the governors.
Burrows didn't mention, however, that the coronavirus has taken a disproportional toll in the West Texas city that he calls home than it has up to now in any of the other major population centers in the state. The Lubbock area ranks first in the state on a per-capita basis in both the virus death and infection rates
An ongoing Capital Inside analysis of the pandemic effect in Texas showed that one in every 1,431 Texans had tested positive for COVID-19 by Tuesday evening when one of every 54,916 people in the state had died after being infected. The odds for dodging and survival have been substantially lower in Lubbock than any other urban area with one confirmed case for every 886 residents with one death for every 8,478.
Texas had reported 20,921 confirmed coronavirus cases by late Tuesday night with 545 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. Lubbock has had 445 people test positive for the virus including 36 who've died.
While the virus has been portrayed as a disease that is more of a threat in the largest cities, that hasn't been the case in terms of the per-capita death rates in a category that Lubbock leads with the Beaumont-Port Arthur and Midland-Odessa areas ranked second and third respectively. The Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas that ranked first and second in population size are sixth and fifth respectively in coronavirus death rates.
Burrows also said that he'd be encouraging constituents to challenge annual property tax statements that they've been receiving in the mail at a time when many are suffering financially as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and government restrictions on business.
This will come as unpleasant news to local leaders who find themselves in the midst of critical budget decisions without any real way to guess the extent of the fiscal damage that the virus will do before the rampage ends. But it might not come as a big surprise to them in light of Burrows' claim last year that he and GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen hated cities and counties and planned to make them pay during the next legislative sessions.
Burrows and other conservatives at the Capitol have voted in recent years to reduce the amount of sway that mayors and county officials have on a wide range of issues. But Burrows had more success last year sponsored a property tax reform package in 2019 in a move designed to make it harder for local government officials to raise funds based on rising home values.
But the third-term lawmaker's accomplishments at the Capitol in 2019 were eventually overshadowed by an impromptu sting operation that implicated Bonnen and Burrows in a GOP colleague targeting scandal. Burrows' hold on the chairmanship of the panel where tax bills must originate could be in serious jeopardy with Bonnen having pulled the plug on a hometown re-election bid in the aftermath of the furor.
Burrows might see the focus on an overhaul of the disaster initiation law as a way to mitigate a deluge of criticism that conservatives directed at him during the targeting tempest. Burrows also sought to shore up his conservative credentials when he promised to be an insuramountable roadblock to a potential tax increase that he said some of his fellow House Republicans had been discussing as a potential solution to a record state fiscal crisis that the Legislature will confront in 2021.
Burrows predicted that lawmakers would tackle the budget woes with deep spending cuts that would avert the need for higher taxes.