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.

On April 2, Gov. Abbott waived certain regulations relating to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel. The waivers allow local medical directors for licensed EMS providers to permit individuals who are qualified, but not formally certified, to provide critical emergency response services for patients treated and transported by the EMS provider. Certain requirements also are suspended to allow qualified out-of-state advanced emergency medical technicians who currently are unable to take the required skills test to provide essential EMS services. The waivers allow first responder organizations to delay submitting renewal applications and completing certain license requirements and EMS licensees to delay submitting recertification applications and meeting recertification requirements.

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