Texas AG Ken Paxton warns cities against enforcing stricter coronavirus restrictions than state

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) on Tuesday warned cities not to enforce stricter coronavirus restrictions than those the state government has mandated as it moves into a phased reopening.

Paxton wrote letters to Dallas, Bexar and Travis counties and the mayors of San Antonio and Austin reprimanding them for an array of “strict and unconstitutional” orders that contradict more lax statewide measures on issues such as wearing masks, regulations around places of worship, shelter-in-place orders and more.

“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,” Paxton said in a statement. “I trust that local officials will act quickly to correct any orders that unlawfully conflict with Texas law and Governor Abbott’s Executive Orders.” 

Paxton specifically cited local measures that mandate houses of worship limit the number of people on their premises and orders requiring the use of masks.

“Your order conflicts with the governor’s order by mandating that houses of worship comply with the protocols referenced in your order, including potential limitations on the number of people who can attend religious services,” he wrote to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, adding that his order amounted to “overbearing government action.”

“Your orders provide that ‘all persons over the age of six shall wear some form of’ mask when leaving their residence. Executive Order GA-21 encourages individuals to wear appropriate mask but does not require them,” Paxton wrote to Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart and Austin Mayor Stephen Adler (D). “Although your orders ‘require’ individuals to wear masks when they leave their home, they are free to choose whether to wear one or not.”

Paxton also noted to all the counties and judges that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order, which does not include-a shelter-in place order, supersedes all local measures that require residents to stay in their homes except for essential purposes.

The letters come as Texas, as well as an array of other states, works to reopen its economy, with Abbot and Paxton cheerleading efforts to reopen businesses and revive jobs that were lost during the pandemic.

However, health experts have warned that opening too quickly could lead to a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

“My concern is that if some areas, city, states or what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said Tuesday in reference to guidelines laid out by the federal government.

Texas has had over 40,000 confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

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