5 Texas state representatives sue Abbott over contract awarded for contact tracing

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Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, delivers remarks on Aug. 4, 2020 at the largest Texas Division of Emergency Management warehouse, located in San Antonio, where personal protective equipment is taken in and distributed to Texas communities. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) – Five Texas lawmakers are suing Governor Greg Abbott and state health officials over a $295 million contract awarded to a Frisco-based tech firm.

State Reps. Kyle Biedermann, Bob Hall, Mike Lang, Steve Toth, and Bill Zedler, all Republicans, filed suit in the Travis County district court Monday.

The lawsuit names Abbott, Texas Health and Human Services Acting Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson, and MTX Group, Inc.

The lawmakers allege that the state’s $295 million COVID-19 contact tracing contract awarded to the MTX Group is is unconstitutional because it wasn’t competitively bid and because the funds should have been appropriated by the Legislature in a special session.

Critics of the deal have said MTX Group doesn’t have the experience to handle contract tracing, which entails tracking down those who have come into contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

In the lawsuit, the five ask the judge to invalidate the contract, arguing that Abbott and state health officials “failed to follow competitive bidding rules” in awarding the contract. They also argue that the contract’s term of two years is improper.

“As discussed herein, the request for proposal for the contract was inadequate, the contract bid process was a sham, and the contract impermissibly exceeds two years,” they argue in the suit.

Texas emergency laws, triggered by Abbott’s March 13 disaster proclamation, give state officials broader than usual authority to make policy decisions. In the lawsuit, though, the five representatives argue that officials went too far and failed to follow proper bidding procedures required by state law.

The five lawmakers also argue that Abbott’s continued use of executive orders to govern through an emergency that is now in its fourth month rather than calling the Legislature into session may be permitted under the Disaster Act, but violates the Texas Constitution and its separation of powers.

“The Legislator Plaintiffs urge primarily that the Disaster Act can be a valid law that is unconstitutional in its application – as the Governor has no excuse to create a policy not previously existing, violating the Texas Constitution’s required Separation of Powers, when he can call a special session of the Legislature in this emergency, now going on four months,” the suit says.

“Though the Governor has been aware of this emergency for more than four months and
the Texas Constitution specifically allows the Governor to call a special session of the
Legislature to address “disease threat” (Tex. Const., art. 4, section 8), he has shown no intention of doing so, but appears determined to sit in the Governor’s mansion and issue laws ex cathedra in a clumsy and inconsiderate manner that requires ongoing revision.

“The Legislator Plaintiffs do not contend that the Governor is required to call a special
session in the face of disease threat, but that he cannot use a perpetual state of emergency to
create state policy on his own. Using a serious but manageable disease threat which some refer to as “the new normal” and authorizing multiple-year contracts entrenching a new bureaucracy and effective government program is not an appropriate use of the Governor’s power. Governor Abbott’s remedy is a special session.”

The lawmakers are asking the court to declare the contract void for lack of authority and for lack of competitive bidding and to enjoin it as illegal and “an impermissible violation of this state’s separation of power.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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