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Mar 16

TML Training Events and Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)

Posted to Press Release by Jen Stamps

TML is monitoring developments related to the novel coronavirus – including tracking travel restrictions, statewide developments, and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  We want to assure all city officials that your safety and security are our top priorities.

In light of increased city travel restrictions and the CDC’s recommendation to cancel all events of 50 or more, we are cancelling or postponing most TML training events taking place between now and May 15, including the Emotional Intelligence Workshop,  Leadership Academy, and Small Town Conference.   City officials registered for these events will be notified and registration fees will be fully refunded.  If feasible, we’ll reschedule these events later in the year.

We are considering offering the TML Budget and Tax Rate Workshop on April 23 (Austin) as a webinar instead of in-person training.  Registrants will be notified when details are worked out. 

At this time, we’re still planning to proceed with TML training events held after May 15.  If the situation changes due to a regional quarantine or state emergency declaration, TML will reschedule or cancel other upcoming training events and notify all registrants.

TML Event Cancellation Policy

Registrants whose events take place between now and May 15, or whose travel or other plans are impacted by the coronavirus may request a full refund.

Attendees should contact their hotels directly to cancel reservations, and are responsible for any cancellation or change fees.

Mar 31

March 31, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #12

Posted to TML Coronavirus Update by TML Staff

Urgent Updates

 

Has the governor issued a new executive order that supersedes his previous social distancing order?

 

Yes. Today the governor issued a new executive order that supersedes his original social distancing order (GA-08). The new order extends through April 30, 2020. Also, he has closed all Texas schools through May 4, 2020, and that date may be extended. 

 

Each city official should read the entire order (linked above), but in summary the order provides that:

 

-Every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gathering and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.

-Essential services are those defined by TDEM according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

-All Texans should follow the President’s and CDC’s hygiene guidelines.

-All Texans should avoid eating out, but take advantage of carry out and drive-thru restaurants.

-It does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential services, visiting parks, hunting or fishing, or engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID- 19 and to minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.

-Texans should stay away from nursing homes and similar facilities.

-Schools shall remain temporarily closed to in-person classroom attendance and shall not recommence before May 4, 2020.

 

Does the governor’s new order supersede local (e.g., city and county) orders?

 

Yes, at least partially. It clearly supersedes “any conflicting order issued by local officials in response to the COVD-19 disaster, but only to the extent that such a local order restricts essential services allowed by this executive order or allows gatherings prohibited by this executive order.” That means a city may not define essential services differently than TDEM and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have, but even their guidance leaves unanswered questions. It appears that the most significant preemptive effect of the new order is to allow religious gatherings conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship, so long as appropriate social distancing guidelines are followed.

 

The governor then suspended Section 418.108 of the Texas Government Code (The Texas Disaster Act) and several other laws, some of which are unnamed, “to the extent necessary to ensure that local officials do not impose restrictions inconsistent with this executive order, provided that local officials may enforce this executive order as well as local restrictions that are consistent with this executive order.” Section 418.108 is the core authority for mayors to declare, and city councils to extend, local states of disaster, including movement of persons and occupation of premises.  This suspension would appear to mean that a city’s stay home/work home order is superseded by the order’s edict that “every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gathering and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.” 

 

League staff will continue to analyze the order and report further in tomorrow’s update.

 

Where do we stand right now with regard to federal and state guidance and orders, including the new order in the question above?

 

The federal government has not “ordered” anything. Instead, President Trump and the Center for Disease Control issued the following guidance, which is in effect through April 30: (1) listen to and follow the direction of your state and local health authorities; (2) if you feel sick, stay home; (3) if someone in your household has tested positive for coronavirus, keep the entire household at home; (4) if you are an older person, stay home and away from other people; (5) if you are a person with a serious underlying health condition putting you at risk, stay home and away from other people; (6) work or engage in schooling from home whenever possible; (7) if you work in a critical infrastructure industry, you have a special responsibility to continue to go to work; (8) avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people; (9) avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts—use drive thrus, pick up, or delivery options; (10) avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits; (11) do not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance; and (12) practice good hygiene.

 

With regard to state-level orders, Governor Abbott has today ordered compliance with the items in the bulleted list in the first question above.

 

Because the federal government has issued only guidance, the only non-local (e.g. city or county) mandatory restrictions are those imposed by Governor Abbott’s new order.

 

What action has the governor taken with respect to first responders and testing?

 

Yesterday, the governor issued the following press release:

 

Governor Greg Abbott has waived certain statutory provisions to ensure public safety employees who contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment will be reimbursed for reasonable medical expenses related to their treatment of COVID-19. Because the nature of their duties has caused them to increase their risk of contracting COVID-19, the Governor has waived these statutory provisions so that public safety employees who contract COVID-19 are not also financially penalized.

 

“Texas’ public safety employees are vital to our COVID-19 response,” said Governor Abbott. “These brave men and women are on the front lines and risking potential exposure to keep our communities safe. By waiving these regulations, Texas will ensure that those who may contract COVID-19 will have the support they need to pay for medical expenses.”

 

While the actual order is not posted on the governor’s website, League staff obtained this language from his office:

 

In accordance with section 418.016 of the Texas Government Code, the Office of the Governor grants DWC’s request to suspend Texas Government Code 607.002(1) and (2) to the extent necessary to allow those public safety employees, who were likely to have been exposed to COVID-19 while in the course of their employment, to be entitled to the reimbursements set forth in 607.002 of the Government Code.

 

Those subsections provide that:

 

Sec. 607.002. REIMBURSEMENT. A public safety employee who is exposed to a contagious disease is entitled to reimbursement from the employing governmental entity for reasonable medical expenses incurred in treatment for the prevention of the disease if:

(1) the disease is not an "ordinary disease of life" as that term is used in the context of a workers' compensation claim;

(2) the exposure to the disease occurs during the course of the employment; and

(3) the employee requires preventative medical treatment because of exposure to the disease.

 

The apparent intent of the order is to remove any impediments to a city providing and paying for testing for its first responders.

 

Further Updates

 

Has the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool provided COVID-19-specific training for its members?

 

Yes. TMLIRP’s online learning partner, LocalGovU, is offering timely online learning classes that cover COVID-19, including COVID-19 for Law Enforcement and COVID-19 for Local Government Personnel. These courses are no cost to TMLIRP members. 

 

If your entity has established a TMLIRP online learning center account, the entity’s administrator can assign these courses to employees. LocalGovU has how-to videos on system functions in the online learning center. 

 

If you do not have an account already established for your entity, please go to TMLIRP’s online learning page to request access to the training platform. An entity should assign a training administrator to serve as the contact for the online learning center. Requests for training access will be granted once your account has been verified, usually within 24 to 48 hours. A LocalGovU Customer Success representative will reach out to connect once your account has been verified. 

 

Link to TMLIRP online learning page: http://bit.ly/TMLIRPOnlineLearning 

 

Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool

Loss Prevention Department

1821 Rutherford Lane, First Floor

Austin, TX 78754

512-491-2300

800-537-6655 (in Texas only)

lossprevention@tmlirp.org

 

Do cities under 500,000 population have direct access to the $139 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund created under the federal CARES Act?

 

Likely not, but we don’t yet know for sure. Conventional wisdom has been that the CARES Act only allows state governments, along with local governments with populations exceeding 500,000 to receive direct funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. (Arguably, the state would provide additional funding to local governments under 500,000 population through its allocation.) That guidance is based on this definition of “local government” in the section of the Act pertaining to the Coronavirus Relief Fund:

 

“The term ‘unit of local government’ means a county, municipality, town, township, village parish, borough, or other unit of general government below the state level with a population that exceeds 500,000.”

 

The National League of Cities has raised an alternative interpretation in a letter to the U.S. Department of Treasury premised on a doctrine of statutory interpretation called the “rule of the last antecedent.” Essentially what NLC contends under this interpretation is that the 500,000 population requirement applies only to an “other unit of general government below the state level” and not to a “county, municipality, town, township, village, parish, [or] borough.”

 

NLC has requested interpretive advice from the Department of Treasury on this question, and TML will provide updates on any such guidance as it become available.

 

Is a state government permitted to grant revenue received by the state from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to local governments under 500,000 population?

 

If local governments under 500,000 population cannot receive direct access to federal funds under the CARES Act, a reasonable interpretation of the new law would likely permit a state government to use revenues it receives under the Coronavirus Relief Fund to further fund these local governments. However, one possible interpretation of the Coronavirus Relief Fund language in the CARES Act indicates that funding received by the state may only be used to cover expenditures made by the state.

 

In the same letter linked in the question above, the National League of Cities has sought interpretive advice from the Department of Treasury on this language. NLC argues in its letter why the Congress likely did not intend to deny funding to local governments under a certain population threshold, as residents of those communities are equally as susceptible to the coronavirus as residents of large urban areas.