Local governments will be required to hold in-person meetings despite increase in COVID-19 cases

Amid an increase in COVID-19, cases of local government agencies such as city council and the county commissioners court will be required to hold in-person meetings following Governor Greg Abbott’s cancellation of suspended rules for the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Meetings hosted by the city and county have been held virtually since last March, when provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act were suspended in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic by avoiding gathering places.

But at the end of August, the suspension of these rules will no longer apply.

“On June 30, 2021, Governor Abbott’s office approved a request from the Attorney General’s office to lift suspensions of certain provisions of the Open Meetings Act. The suspensions will be lifted at 12:01 am on September 1, 2021, ”according to the attorney general’s office.

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in El Paso, mostly among the unvaccinated.

Abbott rolled back most COVID-19 restrictions in March, but local governments have had the option of holding in-person meetings since then. From next month they will be required to make ground

Other government agencies such as school districts began holding in-person meetings in July, including the El Paso, Socorro and Canutillo school districts. The Ysleta Independent School District will return to face-to-face meetings on August 25.

City officials said the in-person meetings would be hybrid.

“Employees don’t need to be in the boardroom to present and the audience will still be able to participate virtually as well as in person. This will allow us to maintain a low attendance rate, thereby reducing the occupancy rate, ”El Paso Fire Chief Mario D’Agostino said in an email response to El Paso Matters.

D’Agostino said that due to restrictions imposed by Abbott, the city will not require people to show their vaccination cards or enforce face mask requirements, but will strongly recommend individuals to wear face masks. inside.

Mayor Oscar Leeser said he hopes people who choose to attend in-person meetings will enforce safety measures such as social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand washing.

“It’s important that we go back to face-to-face meetings,” Leeser said.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said the Commissioners’ Tribunal was ready to hold meetings in person.

“I’ve been at the (county) courthouse for six or seven months now with a mask, I get the shot, my staff wear a mask and get the shot, and it works,” Samaniego said.

El Paso County Commissioners’ Court will have to comply with Texas Open Meetings Act September 1, but may enforce safety measures based on an emergency Texas Supreme Court order issued May 26. The order authorizes the chief justice of the appeals court and local administrative district judges to adopt minimum standard health protocols in courthouses in order to resume court proceedings in person.

The emergency ordinance followed a May 17 decree that Abbott imposed on government entities, including a county, city, school district, public health authority and government official, to require anyone whether she is wearing a face cover or instructing another person to wear a face cover. The courts can make such demands because they are an independent branch of government.

Samaniego also issued a county order on May 21 calling on El Pasoans “to save lives and avoid setbacks by wearing a face covering and maintaining social distancing.” But under Abbott’s decrees, Samaniego cannot impose masks.

Linda Chew, a judge for the 327th District Court, released the COVID-19 2021 minimum health standards protocols for the El Paso County court system in June.

The county changed its order to comply with health standards that will remain in effect until at least October.

According to county minimum health standards, safety protocols include a requirement to cover the face when entering the county courthouse and common areas. Limited occupancy and social distancing measures are also being implemented and face masks are required in courtrooms, unless judges allow participants to remove them.

For more information on meeting times:

Visit the El Paso County website at epcounty.com

Visit the City of El Paso website at elpasotexas.gov

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