Governor, agencies waive some state licensing rules in response to COVID-19

On March 13, Gov. Abbott issued a proclamation declaring a state of disaster for all Texas counties due to the imminent threat of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Anticipating the need for essential licensed workers to provide critical services, the governor and various state agencies waived certain licensing-related regulations. Under Government Code sec. 418.016(a), the governor may suspend any statute or agency rule that would interfere with the state’s response to a declared disaster.

Medical and pharmacy licenses. Citing the urgent need for medical personnel to provide care to Texans affected by COVID-19, both in person and via telemedicine, Gov. Abbott directed the Texas Medical Board (TMB) and the Texas Board of Nursing (TBN) to expedite temporary licenses for out-of-state physicians, physician assistants, and other relevant personnel. TMB also is encouraging retired physicians who have been on official retired status for fewer than two years to apply for a return to active status, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Under the governor’s direction, TMB will allow out-of-state physicians to receive a Texas limited emergency license or hospital-to-hospital credentialing and allow doctors to use telemedicine to diagnose, treat, and prescribe to new patients. The granting of emergency medical licenses and credentials during a declared disaster is governed by Texas Administrative Code Title 22, secs. 172.20 and 172.21. Emergency licenses and credentials issued under these sections are valid for up to 30 days or until the declaration of disaster ends, whichever time frame is longer.

In addition, the governor waived certain nursing regulations under the Occupations Code and Texas Administrative Code. The waivers grant a six-month grace period for nurses with expired licenses, allowing them to continue practicing without added fees or penalties. The waivers also revise certain requirements for students in their final year of nursing school and allow TBN to extend for up to six months temporary permits to practice for graduate nurses and graduate vocational nurses who have yet to take the licensing exam.

The governor also temporarily waived some inspection requirements for the renewal of certain pharmacy licenses.

Other occupational licenses. On March 23, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) waived continuing education requirements for licenses administered by the department set to expire in March, April, and May 2020. Affected license holders still must submit completed renewal applications, pay required fees, and undergo criminal history background checks.

To ensure that medical facilities with boilers and elevators whose permits are approaching expiration can continue to function during the coming months, TDLR also extended the inspection times for such equipment with permits that expire in March, April, or May 2020. The TDLR website indicates that investigators will remain available to respond to accidents or emergencies involving boilers or elevators.

In addition, testing centers used by TDLR’s third-party vendor for occupational licensing examinations have been closed until April 13.

A number of other state licensing boards have announced temporary suspensions or modifications of licensing and continuing education requirements due to COVID-19, including the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

By Andrew McNair

UPDATE: On March 28, Gov. Abbott announced waivers temporarily extending license expiration dates for pharmacies, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy trainees and suspending pharmacist continuing education requirements. The governor also issued waivers allowing certain advanced practice registered nurses with expired licenses to reactivate their licenses without having to pay reactivation fees or complete continuing education and current practice requirements.

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Texas education agencies offer information on coronavirus response

Texas public and higher education agencies are using their websites to relay information about campus closings, online learning, and other updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Abbott on March 19 ordered schools to temporarily close, acting under the broad authority of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, Government Code ch. 418.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provides a site for support and guidance on responding to the coronavirus. The site includes updated information on school closures and directives from the governor and education commissioner about the crisis, including the waiver of state testing requirements for the current school year.

Special education. TEA also is providing local school officials with guidance on special education during classroom disruptions caused by school closures, while emphasizing the priority of health and safety. The provided document outlines legal requirements for students with disabilities to have equal access to educational opportunities when districts provide online education to the general student population. For example, TEA advises local school officials to consider a student’s current accommodations in the physical classroom setting and what those supports would look like in a virtual environment. School officials also are advised to consider ways to use distance technology for committee meetings on a student’s individual education plan.

School meals. A new website launched by TEA lets Texas parents find places nearby where local school systems are offering free school meals for pickup. Parents can type their address into the MealFinder map to find out where to pick up meals. More than 1,000 schools have started meal pick-up locations in areas where more than 50 percent of students are eligible for a free or reduced-price meal, according to TEA.

Higher education. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has information about interruptions to institutions of higher education and other coronavirus updates on its website. The board also answers frequently asked questions, offering information about course changes and student financial aid.

By Janet Elliott

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Texas prepares for Family First Prevention Services Act

Texas is preparing to implement a recent federal law that provides funds for services to prevent children from entering foster care. The law also defines which group home settings qualify for federal funding.

Texas has delayed implementing certain provisions of the law because it does not have a sufficient number of service providers eligible to receive the funds, but the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is hearing from stakeholders about the provider capacity needed to meet federal requirements. More than half the states have delayed implementation. Continue reading

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TEA offers options for schools considering longer school year

As part of its school finance overhaul, the 86th Legislature last year provided a funding incentive for schools to extend their school calendar for up to 30 days beyond the required minimum operation time. Education Code sec. 25.081(a) requires school districts to operate for at least 75,600 minutes, and districts commonly adopt a 180-day calendar to meet this requirement. Continue reading

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Ongoing litigation seeks to end ban on liquor sales by public corporations

The 86th Legislature last year revised laws governing the sale of alcohol in Texas but did not eliminate a ban on public corporations selling hard liquor. The ban is being challenged in a long-running lawsuit brought by Walmart against the state. In December 2019, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the state and sent the case back to be reconsidered by a district court that had ruled the ban unconstitutional. Continue reading

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