Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has instructed Austin officials to lift the area’s mask mandate by 6 p.m. CST Wednesday, which has remained in place even though the statewide mandate has been lifted, setting up a potential legal battle between the largely Democratic city against Republican leadership in the state over Covid restrictions.
Paxton sent a letter to Democrats Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown Wednesday, saying they were violating a state order prohibiting localities from enacting mask mandates, giving the officials a 6 p.m. deadline to lift the mandates or force him to carry out his threat: “On behalf of the state of Texas, I will sue you.”
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week the state was lifting its mask mandate and all Covid capacity restrictions for businesses, with apparently no exceptions for localities to issue broad, public mask-wearing mandates like the one that had been in place.
The change allowed for local governments to continue requiring masks in facilities, while college campuses, school boards and courts could also still require masks.
Travis County and the City of Austin both continued to enforce a broad mask mandate that included businesses, though.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler has claimed the mandate is enforceable because it was created by the local health authority, even though that doesn’t appear to be an exception allowed by Abbott’s order, which explicitly says it “shall supersede any conflicting order issued by local officials.”
Adler’s office didn’t immediately provide a comment to Forbes regarding the remarks from the attorney general’s office.
“We have already taken you to court under similar circumstances. You lost,” Paxton said, referring to a lawsuit the state won over restaurant restrictions for the New Year’s holiday. “If you continue to flout the law in this manner, we’ll take you to court, and you will lose again.”
Abbott’s decision was met with widespread criticism among advocates for keeping Covid restrictions in place even as the Covid outbreak lessens. President Joe Biden was among those, calling decisions to lift mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi “Neanderthal thinking.”
Tensions between Republican-controlled state government and Democrats running Austin government have grown over the past year, and this wouldn’t be the first time a debate over Covid restrictions between the two governments has ended up in court. A local restriction from Adler and Brown to shut down indoor dining over the New Year’s holiday was challenged by Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, with the Texas Supreme Court siding with the state and overturning the local order. Adler and Abbott have also butted heads over police funding, after the Austin City Council agreed to cut over $20 million from the city’s police department budget as part of what could total $150 million in money redirected from police. Abbott has responded by saying he’d like to see localities that reduce law enforcement budgets to “lose access to all of their tax revenue.” He also at one point threatened a state “takeover” of the Austin Police Department.
Businesses are still allowed to issue mask mandates on their own, and several large retailers have announced they will keep mandates in place, even as states roll back restrictions. Target, Walgreens and CVS are among those businesses.
Austin area to remain in Stage 4, businesses must still require masks, local leaders say (Austin American-Statesman)
Source: Forbes – Business