SB 6, which extends liability protections for premises owners, product manufacturers, and health care providers during a pandemic emergency, has passed the Texas House by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 133-10. The bill now returns to the Senate with the agreed-to House amendments. We expect Senator Hancock to move that the Senate concur with the amendments and send the bill to the Governor.
The ten no votes against the bill in the House were: Rep. Kyle Biederman (R), Rep. Briscoe Cain (R), Rep. Jeff Cason (R), Rep. Penny Morales Shaw (D), Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D), Rep. Bryan Slaton (R), Rep. Steve Toth (R), Rep. Armando Walle (D), Rep. Terry Wilson (R), and Rep. Erin Zwiener (D). The only no vote in the Senate was Sen. Bob Hall (R).
There are many people to thank for their help in getting the bill to this point. Governor Abbott designated SB 6 as emergency legislation, putting the bill at the forefront of consideration early on. Lieutenant Governor Patrick gave the bill one of the lowest bill numbers as one of his top priorities for the session. But we would not have gotten very far without the hard work of Chairman Hancock, his Committee Director, Mattie Heith, who participated directly in the negotiations between TCJL, TAPA, and TTLA that produced a consensus bill. They also worked patiently with other stakeholders on necessary changes to allay concerns about the bill. We would also like to thank Senator Hancock’s Chief of Staff, Stacey Chamberlin, and his Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director Caity Jackson. Their work resulted in SB 6 clearing the Senate with only one dissenting vote (Sen. Bob Hall), a remarkable achievement for a civil liability bill as significant as this one.
On the House side, Chairman Leach and the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee worked together to get the bill out of committee on an 8-0 vote. The members of JCJ likewise deserve our gratitude for their thoughtful and deliberative consideration and support of the bill: Vice Chair Yvonne Davis, Speaker Joe Moody, Rep. Mike Schofield, Rep. Reggie Smith, Rep. Julie Johnson, Rep. Matt Krause, Rep. Harold Dutton, and Rep. Mayes Middleton. Chairman Leach took the bill to the floor, fending off unacceptable amendments along the way, and won a huge vote for the bill. But just as Senator Hancock has the superb staff work necessary to handle a bill of this importance, so does Chairman Leach. His Chief of Staff, Lauren Young, and Legislative Director and Committee Clerk Cassidy Zgabay, worked closely with us to respond to questions, vet potential amendments, and make sure a clean bill without points of order got to the House floor (and judging by the number of points of order this session, that is no small feat!).
As is the case for every significant piece of legislation, the behind-the-scenes work that makes things go is equally important. When TCJL started working on SB 6 in the spring of 2020, we asked for volunteers for a task force to assist us. We received an overwhelming member response to our invitation. SB 6 has had more member input than just about any bill we’ve ever worked on and can truly be considered a collaborative effort in every respect. We were also fortunate to get the advice of our three “wise men,” former Chief Justice Tom Phillips, former Senator Bob Duncan, and longtime TCJL attorney Shannon Ratliff to assess the language from both a legal and legislative standpoint. We cannot overstate the importance of their involvement in helping us put together a bill specific to Texas law and practice, especially since so many variants had appeared nationally that would not have worked in Texas.
SB 6 deals with three broad areas of tort law: health care liability, products liability, and premises liability. TCJL had responsibility for the latter two, while the Texas Alliance for Patient Access (TAPA) captained the health care liability section. We worked very closely with the TAPA team: Brian Jackson, their superb legal expert; Brian Yarborough and Billy Phenix, their outstanding lobby team; and Jon Opelt, the Executive Director. We jointly conducted the negotiations and coordinated the legislative strategy. The lines of communication remained wide open all session, and we never got our signals crossed. Having been involved in so many of these bills in the last 35 years, we can promise you that this was an achievement in itself, thanks to the strong relationship between the two organizations. We also want to thank, as always, our friends at Texans for Lawsuit Reform, particularly Dick Trabulsi, Lee Parsley, and Mary Tipps for their complete support and drafting assistance on the bill.
We made another call when the effort got underway last spring, this one to our friends (and sometimes adversaries) at the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. Since our inception in 1986, TCJL has made it a policy to work with TTLA wherever possible to reach agreed language on as much as we can. We have enjoyed a longstanding working relationship with the organization, and we also consider their leadership, lobbyists, and staff as personal friends and professional colleagues. We particularly want to thank James Fields, TTLA’s Executive Director, for his many years of willingness to sit down with us and find common ground. It has always been the case—and it was the case again on SB 6—that if we could reach a deal with TTLA, we also got an ally that would help keep the deal intact when people start running at it. Their word is as good as it gets in this business. With respect to SB 6, we also want to thank TTLA President Jim Perdue and the organization’s longtime chief negotiator on medical liability, Jay Harvey. Not only are these gentlemen among the finest practitioners of their profession in the state, but they conduct public policy business in a forthright, thoughtful, and constructive manner. Many, many thanks to James, Jim, and Jay.
We have always striven to put together the best possible team of lobbyists to work our legislative program at the Capitol. This session was certainly no different. Our in-house team of Lisa Kaufman, George Christian, and Carol Sims was joined by strategist Todd Olsen and lobbyists Mindy Ellmer, Todd Morgan, Logan Spence, and the Messer team of Bill Messer, Michael Garcia, Fred Shannon, and Ben Williams. This team was always at the ready on short notice to get into members’ offices to advocate for our issues. They also provided invaluable intelligence that helped guide our legislative strategy. The tremendous success of our legislative program could not have happened without this crack group of professionals.
Finally, our greatest gesture of gratitude is for our members. The support and guidance we have received from all of you made this effort possible in the first place. SB 6 is clear evidence that TCJL retains leadership in the civil justice arena and enjoys the tremendous credibility and trust at the Capitol. We look forward to the next challenge!