AUSTIN — After government officials shut down the city, blocking citizens from providing for their families and forcing over 132,000 Austinites out of work, local officials are now targeting citizens with fines and businesses with lawsuits.

On Thursday, the all-Democrat Austin City Council unanimously passed new punishments on struggling citizens: The city can now stop citizens who do not wear a mask in public and fine them up to $2,000.

The city can also label “noncompliant” businesses as “nuisances” and sue them.

Specifically, the city council authorized the health authority to come up with new restrictions and rules for citizens, which are still being created and drafted, and the council also enacted a slew of new requirements for business and “site” owners.

For citizens, the rules will include forcing everyone to wear a mask in public; for businesses, rules will include mandating masks for all customers and employees, conducting briefings “reiterating public health requirements” for each worker every day before beginning a shift, designating a “COVID-19 safety monitor who is on-site at all times” at construction sites, and roughly 20 other requirements.

Citizens who do not correctly follow the entire list could be fined $2,000 per violation; citizens who run businesses could be designated “public health nuisances” and sued.

“A person who maintains a site that does not comply with minimum standards and, after notice, fails to take corrective actions that comply with minimum standards maintains a public health nuisance,” the draft ordinance reads.

“Upon request of the health authority, the City Council authorizes the city attorney to enforce this ordinance through a civil suit filed in district court,” it continues.

Councilmember Greg Casar, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, added that he wants the city to use all their resources to track down those not obeying.

“I hope as we have people doing health inspections, and we have other city staff out in the community, that we use the resources we can to identify when people are not following the orders,” he said.

The city council’s new orders come as Mayor Steve Adler is also considering shutting down the entire city again, much like his shutdown orders from March and April that forced at least 132,000 Austinites out of work and into a new crisis of struggling to afford food and housing for their families.

He and other local officials have also tried over the past couple of months to punish businesses who do not track customers and citizens who do not wear masks in public, threatening them with $1,000 fines, public shaming and blacklisting, and even six months in prison. The Texas attorney general called these orders “unlawful” and “Orwellian.”

Over the last several months, Gov. Greg Abbott had blocked some of the local officials’ actions, prohibiting them from throwing unmasked citizens in jail.

However, as local officials lamented not having the power to fine and imprison unmasked citizens, Abbott has in the last few weeks allowed the officials to again go after citizens—first by permitting them to punish businesses, then enacting his own statewide mask order with a $250 fine, then sending a letter this week to Mayor Adler, encouraging him and others to use civil action to enforce the orders.

“I think it is significant that the governor sent us a letter yesterday,” said Adler.

Meanwhile, amid local officials’ focus on fining, suing, jailing, and punishing citizens across the entire city, there have been 159 reported coronavirus-related deaths in the county of 1.27 million people.

Statewide, just over 3,000 Texans have died from coronavirus-related illness. This flu season, 6,737 Texans died from influenza and pneumonia.

As Adler and the city council now consider shutting down Austin for the second time, Austinites concerned about potentially being prohibited again from affording food and rent can contact the mayor or the city council.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.