Visit San Antonio: Legislative Affairs, June 2020
Throughout June, the Government Relations (GR) team continued monitoring the funding and regulatory actions of the federal, state and local governments to combat the spread of COVID-19 and provide relief to health-care workers, first responders, local governments, small businesses and frontline workers. The GR Team surveyed and transmitted key information from Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Orders, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s Executive Orders and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s Emergency Health Declarations and their impact on our local hospitality and tourism industry.
On June 5, H.R. 7010, known as the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (PPP Flexibility Act), was signed into law by President Donald Trump. The PPP Flexibility Act makes several critical changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
Key Provisions include:
- The PPP Flexibility Act amends the Paycheck Protection Program to give borrowers more time to spend loan funds and still obtain forgiveness.
- Borrowers now have 24 weeks to spend loan proceeds, up from eight weeks.
- The Act also reduces mandatory payroll spending from 75% to 60%.
- Two new exceptions let borrowers obtain full forgiveness even without fully restoring their workforce.
- Changes made by the PPPFA have been incorporated in new forgiveness application released by the SBA.
- Time to pay off the loan has been extended to five years from the original two.
- The Act now allows businesses to delay paying payroll taxes even if they took a PPP loan.
As previously reported, Visit San Antonio has been working with our federal delegation to secure eligibility of 501c(6) non-profit organizations for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We obtained support from Congressman Henry Cuellar and Congressman Chip Roy for H.R. 6697, the Local Chamber, Tourism, and 501 (c)(6) Protection Act. This piece of legislation, if adopted, would expand PPP eligibility to include 501c(6) organizations and DMOs with 300 or fewer employees and give them access to PPP funding. Visit San Antonio helped lead the submission of letters, in partnership with our local chambers of commerce and other non-profit organizations, to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives leadership requesting support of the U.S. Congress for inclusion of language for 501c(6) non-profit organizations to participate in and have access to PPP funding.
In addition, we recently learned that Senator Ted Cruz joined with Senator Tim Scott and Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio to introduce S 3992, legislation similar to H.R 6697 in the Senate. This action is encouraging since our request is now contained in proposed legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
The State of Texas has moved forward with Governor Abbott’s “Open Texas” plan and has transitioned into Phase 4. As more businesses are opening and others opening with greater capacity, there has been a statewide spike in the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and COVID-19 positive tests. Governor Abbott has made several statements indicating the higher cases of COVID-19 are not yet reaching a critical healthcare tipping point for the State of Texas, but has repeatedly stated the use of face covers, hand sanitization and social distancing will help prevent the spread of the disease. However, with the spike in the number of cases and hospitalizations, the Governor expanded the ability of mayors and county judges to impose restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people with an amendment Executive Order, GA-26. Previously, this applied only to outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people. The Governor has also directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to enact emergency rules that provide strict health and safety standards and procedures related to COVID-19 for child care centers in Texas. These two actions are based on data showing an increase in COVID-19 transmission stemming from large gatherings and childcare centers. Further, Governor Abbott also issued a new Executive Order, GA-27, designed to increase hospital bed capacity in Bexar, Harris, Travis and Dallas counties as the number of cases increase in these counties.
Gov. Abbott on Friday announced a new executive order that again closes bars and similar establishments and scales back the capacity at restaurants to 50 percent from the previous 75 percent allowance. Also, under his new orders, rafting and tubing outfitters must close. This comes on the heels of Bexar County and the city moving to restrict outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people, down from the previous limit of more than 500 people.
The revisions came as part of the state’s effort to contain the spike in the numbers surrounding COVID-19. The overall positivity rate in Texas has increased above 10%, which Abbott had previously stated would lead to further preventative action. He couched his new order as a “targeted, measured directive” based on links between certain types of businesses and services and the recent rise in positive cases throughout the state.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued Executive Order NW-10 to address the spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive tests. This new order took effect as of 12:01 a.m. on June 17 and continues through 11:59 p.m. on June 30, 2020, unless extended, modified or terminated early by the County Judge. The Judge’s Executive Order incorporates and adopts the most recent Executive Order GA-26 issued by Governor Greg Abbott on June 3, 2020, and any subsequent orders by the Governor relating to the expanded opening of Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
This Executive Order includes the following key measures:
- All commercial entities in Bexar County providing goods or services directly to the public must develop and implement a health and safety policy (“Health and Safety Policy”).
The Health and Safety Policy requires, at a minimum:
- All employees or visitors to the commercial entity’s business premises or other facilities wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where six feet of separation is not feasible.
- The Health and Safety Policy required to be developed and implemented by this Executive Order may also include the implementation of other mitigating measures designed to control and reduce the transmission of COVID-19, such as:
- Temperature checks, or
- Health screenings.
- Commercial entities must post the Health and Safety Policy in a conspicuous location sufficient to provide notice to employees and visitors of all health and safety requirements.
- Failure to develop and implement the Health and Safety Policy within five (5) calendar days following the Effective Date may result in a fine not to exceed $1,000 for each violation.
All people age 10 or older shall wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when in a public place where it is difficult to keep 6 feet away from other people, such as visiting a grocery store or working in a close proximity to other coworkers.
The Bexar County Justice Center Complex and Facilities:
- Limited access to county facilities,
- All citizens and employees will be tested/screened prior to entrance in these facilities, and
- Any individual with a temperature exceeding 100 degrees or who fails the screening process will be not be allowed to enter the building.
On June 24, Mayor Nirenberg following Governor Greg Abbott newly amended Executive Order, GA-26, issued a second addendum to his Emergency Declaration #8. This addendum adds one additional prohibition to the recent order. It prohibits all outdoor gatherings of more than 100 persons. It is anticipated that County Judge Wolff will issue a similar order prior to the expiration of the current County order.
Visit San Antonio (VSA) received several questions related to the applicability of the County Judge’s Executive Order and if it conflicts with Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order, GA-26. VSA reached out to Bexar County and received clarification on a couple of points. Under a declared emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, local government officials, like a County Judge, may issue additional/supplemental guidelines that do not supersede or violate any orders/guidelines that Governor Abbott has issued (in this case, the “Open Texas” plan).
Wolff’s Executive Order cites the Texas Government Code Section 418.108 and the powers granted by the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. Specifically, the following language from the County Judge’s Executive Order states:
“WHEREAS, a County Judge is authorized to control ingress to and egress from a disaster area and control the movement of persons and occupancy of premises on an appropriate local scale in accordance with Section 418. l 08(g) of the Texas Government Code and his authority as Emergency Management Director;”
As it has been reported widely in the media, Governor Abbott will not contest Bexar County’s new Executive Order. So, regarding the questions posed by our partners and other stakeholders, local businesses in Bexar County will need to follow the County Judge’s Executive Order since it is supplemental to, and not in violation of, Governor Abbott’s “Open Texas” plan. More specifically, the order does require that both employees and customers/guests wear masks when inside a commercial business where social distancing guidelines (6 feet of distance) may not be kept.
If there are any further questions or concerns, individuals and/or businesses may call Bexar County at (210) 335-2626 for additional clarification.
After Bexar County issued their new Executive Order, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued an Addendum to his Emergency Health Declaration #8. This Addendum supports and adopts the actions of Bexar County emergency health declarations.
Finally, on June 18 the San Antonio City Council received a briefing on the FY 2021 trial budget and five-year financial forecast. This preliminary staff budget forecast indicated that due to the unprecedented economic uncertainty due to COVID-19, there will be financial challenges each year of the five-year forecast. City staff stated that there will need to be budget reductions to achieve balanced budgets over the next five years. The briefing indicated a budget shortfall of $20 million in FY 2021 and $89 million in FY 2022. To meet the projected $109 million deficit over the next two years, staff provided suggested “trial budget reductions” to nine city budget programs and funds.
With regard to the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) fund, reductions are proposed for each of the four programs supported by the HOT Fund. Staff indicated a projected reduction for Visit San Antonio at $8.7 million for FY 2021.
City staff stated they will focus on 3 principles going forward with budget projections:
- Minimize impact of city public services,
- Do not add to the unemployment (city staff positions), and
- Provide for a balanced budget.
The city will begin next week with the City Council budget goal setting meeting and other budget-related meetings internally and externally going into and through July and August. Visit San will be engaged through this process and provide key information as it relates to the City of San Antonio’s budget.