Texas GOP lawmakers sue governor over virus tracing contract

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, left,, and other officials visit a Texas Division of Emergency Management Warehouse filled with Personal Protective Equipment, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Five Texas GOP lawmakers sued Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday over a $295 million contact tracing deal signed during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic that they claim skirted oversight and amounted to the governor exceeding his authority.

The lawmakers are among the most conservative in the state Legislature, and the lawsuit in a Travis County court broadly reflects ongoing anger from the Texas GOP’s far right over Abbott’s handling of the pandemic, including his orders in July to mandate face coverings that led to some county GOP groups censuring him.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Warren Norred, also represented Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther, who in May became a symbol of rising conservative ire over coronavirus lockdown measures when she was jailed over refusing to close her business.

The contract with Frisco, Texas-based MTX Group, which has drawn criticism from both parties as inefficient, was never publicly posted. The five lawmakers contend the contract should have required approval from the Legislature — which is not set to return until January, and can only be brought back to work if Abbott calls a special session.

“Governor Abbott has elevated his own personal choices to be enforced as though they are law,” the lawsuit states.

Abbott’s office did not return a message seeking comment. MTX Group, which is also named in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to an email. The lawsuit was filed by Republican state Reps. Mike Lang, Kyle Biederman, Bill Zedler, Steve Toth and state Sen. Bob Hall.

The suit was filed as Texas reported an additional 236 deaths on Wednesday, pushing the total death toll to nearly 7,500. But hospitalizations in Texas dropped to 8,455, the lowest mark in a month.

What will trouble Texas health authorities, however, is a weeklong spike in the rolling positvity rate. The number has climbed from 12% a week ago to nearly 16% on Wednesday.

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