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Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday his office is working on a legislative proposal to grant civil liability protection against COVID-19-related lawsuits to businesses and individuals who acted “in good faith.”

The proposal was one of several discussed at a listening session hosted by the governor in San Antonio and attended by a dozen or so construction executives, superintendents, and association leaders. After breakfast and a closed discussion that reportedly focused on the state of business in Texas, organizers allowed media members in toward the end of the session to hear remarks from Abbott.

The governor said employers who operated their businesses safely during the coronavirus pandemic “shouldn’t have their business destroyed by frivolous lawsuits.”

“The men and women you see in this room today have gone above and beyond to open and to operate safely during the course of the pandemic,” Abbott said. “And yet, those same businesses face the threat of potential lawsuits for the fact that they opened up.”

Abbott said his office is working with the Legislature, in session in Austin, to draft a bill that would provide protections for both businesses and individuals.

The proposal was popular among the attendees, several of whom nodded while the governor spoke and spoke glowingly of it in the reception area afterwards.

Frank Fuentes, chairman of the Hispanic Contractors Association, said hearing about the proposal made it worth the drive from Austin, where he lives. “You’ve got businesses that are barely hanging on, and here is the governor saying, ‘We’re going to try to protect you,’” he said.

“When you talk about the protection, it gives us the confidence to move forward and continue to open up businesses the way that they should be,” he said.

Abbott outlined a number of legislative efforts intended to benefit business owners that his office will roll out in the coming weeks.

The Legislature is being asked to review regulations suspended during the pandemic and to consider making the suspensions permanent. At the beginning of the pandemic, Abbott signed a waiver allowing to-go alcohol sales, which had previously been prohibited, in an effort to help struggling restaurants that had closed their dining areas as part of a statewide shutdown. Abbott has previously signaled that he wants to make the change permanent.

“We can cut unnecessary red tape and unleash the full might of the Texas economy,” he said.

Abbott also said his office will work to expand the use of opportunity zones in Texas. The program, intended to encourage investment in low-income urban and rural communities with tax incentives, was introduced as part of President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Governor Greg Abbott holds a listening session in San Antonio on the Texas economy and the construction industry at Cuisine Solutions at Aviation Landing. Photos taken on January 26, 2021.
Governor Greg Abbott holds a listening session in San Antonio on the Texas economy and the construction industry at Cuisine Solutions at Aviation Landing. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The proposal was praised by Leo Gomez, the president and CEO of Brooks, on whose mixed-use campus the meeting was held and which is located within a designated Opportunity Zone.

Gomez also highlighted the governor’s pledge to increase workforce development and training. “Every building that’s being constructed these days is getting more complicated, and requires more technology,” he said.

Abbott’s other proposals included: ensuring access to broadband internet in “every zip code,” streamlining the state permitting  process across industries, increasing job skill training programs, and working with chambers of commerce to expand access to rapid COVID-19 tests in workplaces.

During his remarks, Abbott emphasized his intention to continue Texas’ long streak of job gains, which was sustained through the pandemic.

“Despite the challenges we faced over the last year, Texas remains the economic engine for the United States,” he said.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.