COVID-19 Response & ResourcesJulia Stanford
In response to the circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), TAGD has gathered relevant updates and resources for its members and the groundwater community. This information will be updated as needed, so feel free to bookmark this page. We hope these resources are helpful as you navigate challenging times. Note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, it does not recommend any particular course of action or any service, nor does this constitute legal advice for GCDs.
TAGD members, the best source for information is always the TAGD Weekly Updates, sent every Friday. Keep an eye on your inbox and reach out to Julia Stanford if you are not receiving the updates. If you are not a TAGD member and wish to be, please click here.
As of March 16, 2020, Governor Abbott temporarily suspended certain open meetings requirements to reduce in-person meetings in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while maintaining governmental transparency and governmental operations. Click here to view the press release from the Texas Attorney General regarding temporary suspension of certain open meetings requirements, and a full list of the suspended laws here. The Department of Information Resources has created a “How-To Guide” for Webinars and Emergency Board Meetings, which you can access here. TAGD has compiled some resources to assist GCDs in hosting telephonic or video open meetings – click here to view the guide.
Click here to view TAGD’s list of remote work resources. A number of offices are utilizing a work-from-home model for the first time in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect employees. To support TAGD members during this time, TAGD has gathered resources related to working from home, also known as remote work or teleworking.
TAGD has built a list of resources to help GCD employees stay engaged in the groundwater world – click here to view learning opportunities. Office closures and remote work situations due to COVID-19 may impact employees’ workloads, particularly those staff that typically work in the field or engage directly with the public. It has also affected the ability for professionals to attend conferences or participate in other learning opportunities. To keep you and your staff engaged during these times of potentially reduced workloads, you may want to consider using available time for online professional growth opportunities such as videos, podcasts, and certifications.
5/12/20 – Governor Abbott Extends Disaster Declaration
On May 12, Governor Abbott extended the disaster declaration for all Texas counties. You can read the press release and proclamation here. One implication of this extension is that the suspension of certain open meetings act requirements that allows for meetings to be conducted by video or conference call remains in place.
4/17/20 – Governor Abbott Issues Orders on Reopening, Hospitals, Distancing
Governor Abbott issued three new executive orders to begin the process of reopening Texas and modifying guidelines on hospital capacity and social distancing. Within the orders, certain activities and services posing a minimal/no threat of spreading COVID-19 are allowed to reopen under a “Retail-To-Go” model and certain restrictions on surgeries have been loosened. Schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. These orders also establish a “Strike Force to Open Texas,” comprised of nationally recognized medical experts and private and public leaders to advise the Governor. View the press release and links to the Governor’s orders here.
4/9/20 – Guidance on Families First Coronavirus Response Act
In light of the new regulations originating from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Lloyd Gosselink’s Employment Law Practice Group has prepared a comprehensive summary document outlining the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and Expanded Family Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) and incorporating answers to common questions. Click here to view the summary document.
4/3/20 – Governor Abbott Issues Order on Essential Services
Monique Norman, Attorney
On March 31, Governor Abbott issued an order stating that “on a statewide basis effective 12:01 on April 2, 2020 and continuing through April 30, 2020, subject to extension… and to achieve the goals established by the President to reduce the spread of COVID-19, every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.” Exceptions for essential services are based on guidelines on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce issued by the Department of Homeland Security, available here. Under the Order, the Texas Department of Emergency Management will maintain and update an online list of essential services, available here. The full order is available here.
Under the guidance document, it appears that GCDs are essential government functions. The guidance states that “[w]orkers supporting essential maintenance, manufacturing, design, operation, inspection, security, and construction for essential products, services, and supply chain and COVID 19 relief efforts.” Because GCDs are needed to support agriculture, oil & gas, drinking water, public water supply, construction, critical manufacturing, transportation and other listed essential activities, then the GCD granting a water permit/registration is also essential and constitutes a critical work force.
In adjusting GCD operations under the Governor’s March 31 Order, in-person, non-mandatory activities should be delayed until the resumption of normal operations. However, GCDs should establish and maintain lines of communication and make the public aware of changes to operations and how to reach GCD staff by posting on their office door, website, and voice mail. This should include remaining accessible by phone or email to process permit/registration applications and to timely act on those applications with teleconference Board meetings, as needed.
GCDs should consider encouraging workers to work remotely when possible and focus on core business activities. When continuous remote work is not possible, businesses should enlist strategies to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, separating staff by off-setting shift hours or days and/or social distancing. These steps can preserve the workforce and allow operations to continue.
4/2/20 – TAGD May Business Meeting Cancelled
In light of current events and the possibility that restrictions on public gatherings will be extended, the decision was made by the TAGD Executive Committee to cancel the in-person May Regular Business Meeting. We believe this decision is in the best interest of our members and will protect the health and safety of all.
- TAGD will be scheduling a virtual meeting on May 27th for the membership in order to conduct essential TAGD business. There will be no registration charged for this virtual meeting.
- TAGD will be hosting the 4- and 6-hour Public Funds Investment Act Training as a live webinar on May 28th. In addition to hosting this webinar, we are hoping to be able to make the recorded version available in the event you would like to participate but have an unavoidable conflict. Regular registration rates for this training will apply.
4/1/2020 – Senate Hearing Postponed
The Senate Committee on Water and Rural Affairs hearing with the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development scheduled for Thursday, April 30th, 2020 is postponed until further notice.
3/23/20 – TDLR Waives CE Requirements for Water Well Drillers
To help keep its licensees ready and available to assist with combatting the spread of the COVID-19 virus, TDLR has announced that it is waiving continuing education requirements for all licenses expiring in March, April, and May 2020. Licensees will still submit their renewal applications, pay the required fees, and have their criminal histories checked but they will not need to complete any required continuing education requirements this licensing cycle. You can view the TDLR COVID-19 update page here and sign up for official TDLR email alerts here.
3/18/20 – Congressional Response and Paid Sick Leave
On March 17, Congress passed and the president signed HR 6201 to provide coronavirus-related relief. Click here to view the most recent guidance from the US Department of Labor, and click here for a news article summarizing the key provisions. This is the second coronavirus-related bill passed by Congress. It guarantees free diagnostic testing for coronavirus, strengthens health and nutrition programs and unemployment insurance, and provides various employee protections for leave associated with the coronavirus. Key paid sick leave provisions that impact governmental entities, small businesses, and nonprofits are are follows:
- Governmental organizations. Governmental employees must be provided paid sick leave if they become ill from the coronavirus. State and local governments will be required to pay for leave for government workers who contract the coronavirus.
- Small businesses and tax-exempt nonprofits. Companies with 500 or fewer employees must provide up to 10 days of paid sick leave, in addition to existing paid sick leave. It applies only when an employee is unable to work/telework as a result of the coronavirus. Employers are prohibited from requiring an employee to exhaust existing paid sick leave first before using this new emergency leave for coronavirus.
- Waiver. Companies with fewer than 50 employees may apply for a waiver on the basis it “would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”
3/18/20 – Election Postponements Allowed
As of March 18, 2020, Governor Abbott suspended certain provisions of the Texas Elections Code and Texas Water Code to allow subdivisions to postpone their May 2020 local elections until November 3. Click here to view the press release and proclamation.
3/16/20 – Open Meetings Requirements Suspended
As of March 16, 2020, Governor Abbott temporarily suspended certain open meetings requirements to reduce in-person meetings in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while maintaining governmental transparency and governmental operations. TAGD has compiled some potentially useful information here that may help GCDs navigate the process of holding telephonic or video meetings. The Texas Department of Information Resources offers support regarding teleconferencing and videoconferencing. Visit dir.texas.gov, email email@example.com, or call (512) 475-4700 for more information or questions.