Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough is saying that, based on a close reading of Governor Greg Abbott’s new executive order set to go in effect on Friday, most businesses are allowed to reopen, contrary to what the governor indicated at his Monday press conference.
“As I looked at his order and as I looked at his opening statements, I found some things that to me are very important for you to understand,” said Keough in a video posted to social media. “The businesses that he said would be closed are not [listed] in his orders as closed.”
“[O]ur attorney’s office with myself have already determined that because of the vagueness of this order, we’re not going to keep [businesses such as hair salons] closed. Because … that’s not what the order says, in either document.”
Governor Greg Abbott’s new order states, “[E]very person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services or reopened services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”
“Essential services” includes mostly everything that has been in operation throughout the lockdown as determined by the federal government.
“Reopened services” include retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, which have their capacities capped to 25 percent (or 50 percent in counties with 5 or fewer confirmed cases), as well as single-worker offices and golf courses.
The order further states, “People shall avoid visiting bars, gyms, public swimming pools, interactive amusement venues such as bowling alleys and video arcades, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios, or cosmetology salons.”
Keough’s plain interpretation of the order’s text is that while it asks Texans to “minimize” or “avoid” contact with others, it does not strictly prohibit it, nor does it strictly prohibit the businesses listed above from reopening.
Similarly, he noted that the Governor’s Report to Open Texas also fails to specify the mandatory closure of businesses such as gyms and hair salons.
After Keough posted his first video, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) released a notice stating that under Abbott’s new order, “all cosmetology salons (including nail salons, estheticians, and mini-salons), barbershops, laser hair removal establishments and massage establishments shall continue to remain closed.”
Keough released a second video saying he reached out to state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), who in turn contacted Brian Francis, the executive director of TDLR.
According to Keough, Francis told Toth that TDLR would not be enforcing the order, but would be leaving that up to local law enforcement officials.
A spokeswoman from TDLR told The Texan that while the government entity is leaving enforcement up to local officials to actively enforce Abbott’s measures, they are still continuing to investigate complaints that are filed — including hundreds that have come in regarding violations of the previous stay-at-home orders.
Keough emphasized in both videos that the governor could clarify his order to require certain businesses to remain closed.
On Fox26 Houston, Abbott said that he “can understand why [Keough] is saying it needs clarification, and so we will provide that clarification.”
The governor said that while he will allow certain businesses to open at a limited capacity, he will clarify that other businesses, such as gyms and salons, must remain closed.
But until he makes that clarification, Keough is saying that businesses can reopen beginning on Friday with the expiration of the governor’s prior order.
“We’ve got to get Montgomery County rolling again. We have gone along with this as long as we can,” said Keough.
“Our hospitalization rate is stable, and it looks like it’s going to continue to be stable. We’ve had a minimal amount of people passing, [and] our heart goes out to them. But it’s nowhere near what was projected… As far as I’m concerned as your county judge, I’m ready to start rolling here. I know our commissioners’ court is, and I believe most of you are as well.”
Update: On the morning of Friday, May 1, Keough announced that he had received a call and letter from the Texas Attorney General clarifying Abbott’s order.
Keough stated, “It wasn’t until last evening that we received a telephone call from the Attorney General’s office who basically told us — followed by a letter — that anybody who visits these businesses could be prosecuted…and that implies that those businesses are closed.”
“I worked hard and will continue to work very hard at trying to get these businesses as fast as we can. I believe it is essential for us as a county and the future of the state of Texas. We have got to get back rolling our businesses as safely as possible and make sure we protect those who are most vulnerable.”
“That’s my plan. I’m going to continue to work on this. Kudos to the governor for coming out and clarifying that. I would ask our legislators in our Montgomery County to work with me in order to move the governor whichever way we need to go to open up as quickly as possible, keeping the people of our county most safe.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.