Update: Governor Abbott has expressed his approval with the new order from Bexar County mandating face masks. More details can be found here.
Despite Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order that prohibits jurisdictions from imposing a penalty for failure to wear a face covering, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an executive order on Wednesday that threatens fines on businesses that do not mandate face masks.
Last week, Wolff sent a letter to Abbott requesting permission to mandate face coverings.
Abbott has stood by his order that highly encourages people to wear face masks, but does not allow penalties against those who do not do so.
Yesterday, mayors of nine major cities in Texas sent a similar letter to Abbott.
In a press conference yesterday, Abbott said that officials have a responsibility to “educate the public that wearing a mask is the best thing to do,” but said that “throwing people in jail” for failing to wear one is the “wrong approach.”
Abbott criticized Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, alleging that Jenkins wants to jail citizens who fail to wear masks.
The governor then said that Jenkins “hasn’t lifted a finger” to use other enforcement measures, and claimed that Jenkins was taking a “two-faced approach” in his pleas for enforcement.
A reporter asked Abbott if local governments could impose fines, to which the governor replied, “that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
Abbott clarified that local officials “have the ability to impose fines, not for face masks but for other strategies,” such as restrictions on certain types of social gatherings.
Wolff reportedly claims that Abbott’s statement at the press conference “opened a door a little bit.”
“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,” said Wolff.
The new Bexar County executive order requires all businesses to mandate that “all employees or visitors to the commercial entity’s business premises or other facilities wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where six feet of separation is not feasible.”
Businesses must begin enforcing this protocol within the next five business days, and after that may face a fine of $1,000 per incident.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.