While countless Texans are still struggling to provide for their families after the last year of government-mandated shutdowns, state and local politicians are busy bickering about who has the power to fine and punish unmasked citizens.
On Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’s suing Austin officials for still mandating masks despite the governor’s most recent executive order.
Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to end mask mandates and “open Texas 100 percent” took effect—but Austin’s county and city officials said they’d still force face coverings on the whole region.
“The mask requirement will continue in our county,” tweeted Democrat Travis County Judge Andy Brown on Tuesday. “Today, the Commissioners Court voted to follow the rules set by the health authority. We will require masks in businesses & declare a place a public health nuisance if it fails to follow these rules.”
On top of that, Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar said he believes the city’s recent health authority rules—which include fining a citizen $2,000 for not wearing a mask—are legal despite the governor’s order. In an interview, Casar also encouraged citizens to call 311 and report others for not obeying the rules.
However, Abbott’s order explicitly states, “This executive order shall supersede any conflicting order issued by local officials in response to the COVID-19 disaster, but only to the extent that such a local order restricts services allowed by this executive order or allows gatherings restricted by this executive order.”
On Wednesday, AG Paxton threatened Austin officials with a lawsuit if they did not rescind their mandate by 6 p.m.
“City/county leaders must not be thinking clearly. Maybe it’s oxygen deprivation from quintuple-masking. Whatever the case, they’ve tried this before. They lost,” Paxton tweeted, referencing his recent lawsuit against the City of Austin for their illegal New Year’s Eve curfew.
“If you continue to flout the law in this manner, we’ll take you to court again and you will lose again,” Paxton added.
Austin officials responded by digging in their heels.
On Thursday, Democrat Austin Mayor Steve Adler and County Judge Brown said they would not back down, insisting on forcing their rules. A prior version of their mask mandate last year even included imprisonment for up to 6 months for not wearing a mask.
Now, Paxton is suing.
“I told Travis County & The City of Austin to comply with state mask law. They blew me off. So, once again, I’m dragging them to court,” Paxton tweeted on Thursday. “[Mayor] Adler will never do the right thing on his own. His obstruction won’t stop me from keeping TX free & open!”