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Government/Politics

Texas Governor Discusses COVID-19 Liability Protection For Businesses And More Vaccines During San Antonio Visit

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sat down with about a dozen business owners and representatives on Tuesday in San Antonio,

As Texas bears its worst months of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott visited small business owners in San Antonio to discuss protections for the state’s economy.

The governor’s roundtable discussion with about a dozen local business owners and industry representatives focused on growing the Texas economy during the pandemic. Those conversations included potential state legislation to protect businesses from lawsuits and liability related to COVID-19. He also called for broadband internet access across the state and touched on increasing vaccine access.

With the 87th Legislature now in session, Abbott said one of his priorities includes shielding businesses from pandemic related litigation. He said businesses that kept their doors open in the pandemic should not have livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits.

“To protect these businesses I am working with the legislature on a bill that provides civil liability protections for both individuals and businesses that operated in good faith during the course of the pandemic,” he said.

During the early months for the pandemic, Abbott enacted emergency orders that prevented cities and counties from closing businesses despite local attempts to curb virus spread and objections from heads of local governments like San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Guests of the roundtable listening session held by the governor.

The site of the roundtable was at Cuisine Solutions, a company located in Brooks, which is a multi-use development in what used to be Brooks Air Force Base on San Antonio’s South Side. Brooks President and CEO Leo Gomez said welcomed the protections for businesses.

“If companies are doing what they should be doing in terms of (safety) protocols and providing a secure environment for their workers and actually providing jobs and income to people, they shouldn’t be punished for it,” Gomez said.

Only the final few moments of the discussion were open to the press. A news release from the governor’s office indicates those present also discussed “COVID-19 rapid testing program for frontline workers of small businesses, the Texas Enterprise Fund, and how the state of Texas can continue to develop a high quality workforce.”

In the roundtable, Abbott touted some economic strengths Texas had shown in recent months with claims that the suspension of some regulations helped keep businesses in the state afloat during the pandemic.

“One example would be alcohol to-go, some of those ideas are worth keeping by putting into statutes in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “So I’m asking the legislature to review the regulations suspended during the course of the pandemic so we can cut unnecessary red tape and unleash the full might of the Texas economy.”

Abbott also mentioned the pandemic revealed broadband access is an essential tool for education, businesses and healthcare and said the legislature must ensure all zip codes in Texas must have access to broadband internet.

As limited access to COVID-19 vaccines frustrates Texans, Gov. Abbott said the state is asking the federal government for more vaccines.

He added the state has strategies in place to reach communities having a difficult time.

“One is that we are increasing the number of providers who will be able to provide those vaccines to others, but second we are forming some mobile units to go into underserved areas to make sure those underserved areas will be able to receive their share of the vaccines.”

Abbott did not set a timeline for the mobile units.

Texas is set to receive 330,000 vaccines from the state this week. The Texas Department of State Health Services reports that at least 1.5 million Texans have received a first dose of the vaccine and about 300,000 are fully vaccinated with both doses.

Texas has reached 35,000 COVID-19 related deaths; the third highest out of any state and runs second in most COVID-19 cases with around 2 million cases out of its nearly 30 million residents.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced it would be purchasing about 200 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna — about 100 million doses from each — and increasing weekly vaccine distributions to the states. President Biden said the goal would be to increase supply to states and certainty about when deliveries would arrive.

Texas Democrats decried Abbott’s stance handling the pandemic in a statement issued after his San Antonio roundtable. Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said that the governor was acting like the pandemic doesn’t exist, while ICU beds filled up and Texans “continue to die.”

“What Abbott fails to see is how his mishandling of the virus is what has hurt small businesses the most,” Hinojosa said. “The continued spread of COVID-19, the lack of state plan under Abbott’s Administration, and the lack of a national plan under the Trump administration is exactly what has hurt these businesses and our workers.”

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