As some local officials in Texas continue to run roughshod over citizens’ rights in response to the Chinese coronavirus, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is sending a big warning.
In letters addressed to the leaders of three Texas counties (Dallas, Bexar, and Travis) and two mayors (San Antonio and Austin), Paxton warns that recently passed public health orders by those localities “are unlawful and can confuse law-abiding citizens.”
All the letters all take aim at prohibitions on in-person worship gatherings, which have continued to be constrained by some local officials despite declarations and guidance from the state’s superseding local orders.
Additionally, Paxton also warns all three counties that mandatory mask orders are unlawful and are only a recommendation—not a mandate–from the state.
“Because local governments cannot enact laws that are inconsistent with State law, any local order that purports to impose a civil or criminal penalty for not wearing a face covering is void and unenforceable,” Paxton wrote in all three letters.
“Although your orders ‘require’ individuals to wear masks when they leave their home, they are free to choose whether to wear one or not.”
In his letters, Paxton also targeted certain unique overreaches implemented by these county and city officials.
For example, in his letter to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Paxton notes that his recent declaration that some law offices are prohibited from returning to work is in conflict with statewide orders allowing essential services, including lawyers, to operate.
In his letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart, Paxton says the city’s “encouragement” of businesses to maintain detailed logs of customer information or risk public shaming is “Orwellian.”
“Although the order only seems to recommend for these restaurants to track their employees and customers, it forces restaurants into submission by threatening to release the names of restaurants who do not comply,” Paxton wrote. “In addition to the threat of exposure, the city’s Orwellian order raises privacy concerns and is also likely superseded by the governor’s order.”
“Unfortunately, a few Texas counties and cities seem to have confused recommendations with requirements and have grossly exceeded state law to impose their own will on private citizens and businesses. These letters seek to avoid any public confusion as we reopen the state,” said Paxton.