Since shortly after the start of the Chinese coronavirus shutdowns, local governments have clamored to make mask-wearing mandatory—threatening jail time and fines for noncompliance.
Gov. Greg Abbott, however, had stood firm, not only refusing to institute a statewide mask mandate, but also barring elected officials from implementing penalties for not complying with local mask orders, effectively rendering them moot.
Until this week.
On Tuesday, a group of eight mayors wrote to Abbott, imploring him to give them the authority to penalize those who refuse to wear masks.
Among those who signed the letter were: Houston’s Sylvester Turner, Austin’s Steve Adler, San Antonio’s Ron Nirenberg, Dallas’ Eric Johnson, Fort Worth’s Betsy Price, El Paso’s Dee Margo, Arlington’s Jeff Williams, Plano’s Harry LaRosiliere, and Grand Prairie’s Ron Jensen.
On Wednesday, Democrat Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff attempted to skirt Abbott’s restriction by signing an executive order requiring businesses to require customers and employees to wear masks. Failure to do so would result in a fine of $1,000 for each incident.
“The action I’m taking today may be pushing the legal bounds a little bit, but our attorneys believe they can defend this order in court,” Wolff said after issuing the order.
Abbott, however, says he believes the loophole does not conflict with his executive order and even implied that the tactic was meant to be available to local governments all along.
In an interview with KWTX News in Waco shortly after, Abbott said there had been “a plan in place all along” and that “the county judge in Bexar County had finally figured that out.”
Though Abbott said governments cannot require individuals to wear masks, in order to “make sure individual liberty is not infringed upon by government,” he said in the next breath that “local governments can require stores and businesses to require masks.”
“Now local officials are just now realizing that that was authorized,” he added.
By giving his blessing to Bexar County’s mask order, many other cities and counties are expected to soon follow suit.