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May 22

May 22, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #49

Posted on May 22, 2020 at 12:07 PM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates


Will there be a TML Coronavirus Update on Monday (May 25)?


No, we all need a break while we take time to commemorate all those who have sacrificed for our country. We’ll be back on the Tuesday after Memorial Day!


I missed the League’s “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update Webinar: What You Need to Know.” Is the recording archived?


Yes, the webinar was recorded and is now available at no charge on the League’s Coronavirus web page under the “TML Resources” heading.  The questions asked by attendees, along with the answers, are listed below under “Further Updates.”


What’s the latest in the mail-in ballot controversy?


In the pending federal court lawsuit we’ve reported on previously, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a temporary administrative stay of the decision by the federal district court in San Antonio. The district court had issued a ruling allowing anyone in Texas to vote by mail. Presumably, the plaintiffs will ask all the judges on the court to review the decision and/or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Further Updates


Did the governor request most state agencies to prepare budget reductions in the current biennium?


Yes. The governor, along with the speaker of the house and lieutenant governor, sent a letter to most state agencies asking that they submit a plan identifying savings to reduce their budgets by 5 percent for the current biennium. The letter identified several agencies that are exempt from the reduction “given the importance of the state’s response to COVID-19 and the continuity of critical government functions.”


I attended the League’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update Webinar. What questions were asked and answered?


Thanks for attending and for bearing with us through minor technical glitches. The questions and answers (reprinted verbatim below, so please excuse typos and grammatical errors) from the free webinar (which is available to watch here) are listed by category:


CRF Funding


Q: If you have a first responder who is an FTE (in the budget) and they spent all of their time on COVID-19 response, is their straight time eligible under the CARES Disaster Relief Fund?

A: As of right now, the federal CARES Act requires any expenditure of coronavirus relief fund revenue to be spent only to cover expenses that were not accounted for in a city’s most recently approved budget as of March 27, 2020. In other words, regardless of expenditure limitations in the state and federal guidelines referenced above, the revenue can go only towards unbudgeted expenses paid by the city due to the public health emergency in connection with COVID-19. TML and the National League of Cities, along with many individual cities, are lobbying for that and other restrictions to be removed in future federal legislation. Right now, Ds and Rs in Congress are at a stalemate. We will continue to work on the issue. 


Q:  Will there be any push by TML to ask the State to lift the 75% rule from the spending of CRF funds? Perhaps the mayors that collectively petitioned the governor for these funds could petition to remove the 75% rule?

A: Yes. The 75 percent rule is a state-imposed limitation on the use of CRF funds by cities in counties under 500,000 population: “The sub recipient agrees that a minimum of 75% of its allotment will be spent in the categories of medical expenses, public health expenses and payroll expenses for employees substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the public emergency. The remainder of the allotment may be spent in any of the categories provided within the Treasury guidance.” We actually shared that request with the governor’s office today. We will continue to work on it. Contacting your local legislators to make that request on your behalf as well, with concrete examples, will also help.


Q:   In regards to the CRF funding, are only cities/counties under 500,000 required to spend 75% of the allotment on medical expenses, public health expenses and payroll expenses for employees substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the public emergency?

A: That's correct. But keep in mind that those cities are still bound by the Treasury Department guidance. 


Q: Does the 75% refer to only that which is actually provided to the City (i.e., the 20% plus any additional funding requested) or does it apply to the entire $55 per capita allocation.

A:  You must confirm with your city attorney, but it appears that it's 75 percent of the amount you actually draw down: “The sub recipient agrees that a minimum of 75% of its allotment will be spent in the categories of medical expenses, public health expenses and payroll expenses for employees substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the public emergency. The remainder of the allotment may be spent in any of the categories provided within the Treasury guidance.”


Governor’s Orders:


Q: We have a super event (East Texas Jamboree) on the calendar for mid-October. Currently, the city has no plans to cancel this event. Does the current governor's order prohibit such an event? More than likely we will defer to the governor's office.

A: As of right now, there's no exception for a gathering like that. Under GA-23, start with social distancing and then look for an exception. That being said, the governor may have removed restrictions by then. We'll just have to wait and see what he decides.


Q: Executive order GA-24 just issued. Does it remove travel restrictions?

A: Yes, it removes quarantine requirements for those traveling to Texas from certain places out of state. But that is completely separate from the social distancing requirement in GA-23, with its exceptions for covered services or safe daily activities.


State Guidance:


Q: Where can a mayor or business owner seek guidance from the state related to the virus?

A:  A mayor can seek disaster-related advice from the attorney general’s office by emailing, a business owner can seek a determination as to whether the business is a covered business by emailing, and any city official can seek guidance on the Open Meetings Act by emailing or calling 888.672.6787.


Open Meeting Act:


Q:  For videoconference city council meetings, is it ok for council member's initials or photos to be displayed rather than having their faces visible on the video?

A: While that may technically comply with the governor's suspension letter, the AG's office has said it would be a "best practice" to allow the public to both see and hear the city council during the videoconference. That said, they readily acknowledge that Gov't Code 551.127 (f) and (h), which refer to the ability to both hear and see the meeting have been suspended. You should consult your city attorney and/or the attorney general's office ( or 888.672.6787) in making a final decision about this matter.


Q:  In-person council meeting requires compliance with citizen comment requirement also, correct? What if it's a combination of in-person, but also zoom for public who does not want to show up at city hall?

A: In-person meetings must comply with all the regular open meeting requirements, including citizen comment. If someone wants to participate by videoconference, the meeting should comply with the videoconferencing requirements


Economic Development:


Q: Will Rule 3.334 from Comptroller impact whether Chapter 380 loans and grants can be used?

A: We've heard that the provisions related to internet sales, as well as the use of Chapter 380, will likely be included in the final rules adopted by the comptroller. But, again, it sounds like those changes will not be effective until October 1, 2021, putting the ball in the legislature's court in 2021 to address the issue.


Virus-Infection Rates:


Q: In regards to a County Health Department's disclosure to the public of the "number of cases only" to cities within the county, is there a population minimum in which the county can withhold this information to the public? For example, if a city has a population of less than 20,000 people, can the county health department refuse to tell the public the number of cases in that city?

A: There is no threshold like that in the statute. However, the language of Texas Health and Safety Code Section 81.046 is permissive, meaning it says "may be released." Medical or epidemiological information may be released for statistical purposes. I'd suggest working closely with the county to try to come to an agreement so the city knows if it needs to take any action. Unfortunately, there is no way to force them to release the information.


Parks Funding/Dedicated Taxes:


Q: The current pandemic has emphasized the importance of City parks. City parks create an excellent opportunity for citizens to practice social distancing. Our community has experienced major increases in use of our City parks by both residents and visitors. This is particularly evident in the use of our trails. Our concern is that, while more citizens are enjoying City parks, funding for City parks will likely be cut as our City (and likely many other cities) deal with major revenue reductions. So my question for you is that you are hearing from other cities on the possibility of changing state law to allow use of HOT funds as a major revenue source for parks funding?

A: Agreed that parks are a great resource. Both TML and a number of individual cities have requested that the governor suspend a number of statutes to allow revenue flexibility. We've not had success thus far. As with previous answers, it makes sense for mayors (and their legislative delegations) to continue to make those requests from the governor's office.


Remember, you can always seek assistance from the TML Legal Department by emailing or calling 512-231-7400 and choosing option 2. 


Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?


TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.