Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Dallas, Bexar and Travis counties and to the mayors of San Antonio and Austin on Tuesday, warning their “local public health orders that exceed the county’s and city’s lawful authority and that are likely to confuse residents.”
The letter to Austin and Travis County added, “We hope you will act quickly to correct mistakes like these to avoid further confusion and litigation challenging the county’s and city’s unconstitutional restrictions.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt are accused of violating Texans’ religious liberties, restricting essential services, and encouraging an “Orwellian” contact-tracing program.
KXAN reports Attorney General Paxton is concerned about the following issues:
Places of Worship: The letter states the local order attempts to restrict essential services, including those provided by houses of worship
Contact-tracing: The letter alleges the city’s order encourages restaurants to keep track of customers that dine-in the restaurant. The letter acknowledges that the order only recommends keeping a tally of names, but it “forces restaurants into submission by threatening to release the names of the restaurants that don’t comply.” The letter goes on calling the city’s order “Orwellian” and “raises privacy concerns.”
Masks: The letter states neither the County nor the city can impose civil or criminal penalties for not wearing a mask in public.
Shelter-in-Place: The letter alleges Gov. Abbott’s executive order does not include a mandatory shelter-in-place, but the city/county order does. The state’s order only requires Texans to minimize social gatherings and in-person contact outside of the same household.
Criminal Offenses: The letter states the local health order attempts to impose a criminal penalty for violations. Gov. Abbott modified the state’s order on May 7 eliminating the penalty of confinement for violating state/local orders.
A similar letter sent to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins echoes the letter sent to Travis county regarding places of worship, masks and shelter-in-place laws.
Paxton’s letter to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Ron Nirenberg again warned: “local public health orders that exceed the county’s and city’s lawful authority.”
In addition to the previously listed issues, Paxton stated Bexar county’s order contradicts the governor’s order by imposing criminal penalties for violations.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he doesn’t believe his order goes against Governor Abbott’s, claiming, “Up to this point, we have avoided the naked politicization of the virus crisis. I will not follow the AG down that road. The City’s Order complements, incorporates, and does not conflict with the Governor’s Order. We will continue working to keep our community safe to the fullest extent allowed by law.”
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