As local government officials across Texas use their expanded power to enact tighter and tighter restrictions on citizens amid the coronavirus crisis, one Central Texas county judge sparked backlash with his recent comments.
Over the weekend, Democrat Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra told one citizen on Facebook to “report” non-essential customers shopping at stores. The interaction began with the citizen asking Becerra a question.
“I would like to know how you plan on keeping non essential customers out of Lowe’s, Home Depot and other stores just because they don’t want to stay home,” the citizen commented on Becerra’s coronavirus post. “They are continually in these stores and taking chances with peoples health and life’s [sic].”
“Report it,” Becerra replied. “Call the police in the city the store is located. My order comes with a fine. Take pics. Get proof.”
The remark raised eyebrows of numerous commenters.
“Take pics? Are you serious? You’ve overstepped your bounds,” one citizen wrote. “Your order is not valid. Perhaps you should call the office of [Gov. Greg Abbott] to discuss.”
“Some people didn’t buy the right things or bought nothing at all… what can we do to punish them or make them stop?” another asked. “If I go to Home Depot and can’t find what I need, or, gasp, do find something decorative, do I need an encounter with law enforcement to justify the contents, or lack thereof, of my cart?”
“Don’t see how reporting people who need to visit Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. can be enforceable,” another citizen wrote. “How can one person’s visit there be more ‘essential’ than another’s? Way too subjective.”
Becerra responded, seemingly diverting from his original comment that was aimed directly at the “non-essential customers.”
“I’m referring to [reporting] social distancing,” he said.
Prior to this, Becerra had issued a countywide curfew as a part of his stay-at-home order, something the county sheriff said he disagreed with.
“The Hays County Sheriff’s Office will not be using the curfew as a basis for traffic stops,” Sheriff Gary Cutler said. “I do not feel COVID-19, as it has currently affected Hays County, should be a basis for a curfew. The virus doesn’t care what time of day it is and is just as concerning at 2 p.m. as it is at 2 a.m.”
The curfew is no longer in effect after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an updated statewide order last week that supersedes local officials.
With his comments and actions, Becerra joins a growing crowd of city and county officials across Texas who have imposed tight constraints during the coronavirus, even including policies such as police checkpoints on the streets, requiring employer documentation to travel within a city, and citations for having more than one person in a vehicle.
Pushback, however, has begun to rein in some officials’ actions, such as when a threatened lawsuit stopped North Texas’ City of McKinney ban on religious gatherings, or when the Dallas County Commissioners Court unanimously voted Tuesday to limit some of their county judge’s emergency power.
Hays County, where Becerra lives, has over 215,000 citizens and currently has 61 confirmed cases of coronavirus.