Local NewsStatewide NewsState Mask Mandates Don’t Apply to Businesses, Say Lawyers for Local Chamber of Commerce

Local leaders say local mandates, not Greg Abbott's executive order GA-29, make businesses require masks. Many of these mandates have expired.
September 16, 2020
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A Texas chamber of commerce issued guidance to local businesses, stating where local mandates have expired, no rules force businesses to require masks.

To dispel confusion among Comal County businesses, where no local mask mandates remain in effect, two Bulverde lawyers stated in a chamber of commerce press release and in interviews with The Texan that Governor Greg Abbott’s executive mask order applies only to individuals — and with considerable leeway.

When asked to pinpoint whom Abbott’s statewide order actually compels, civil lawyer Ray Jeffrey said “every citizen other than those exempted in the order.”

“It’s an individual obligation on citizens to wear protective equipment when they go inside and for some reason it’s not possible to social distance,” Jeffrey said. “It’s self-regulating on the people, and I guess theoretically there could be some enforcement by law [officers] against individual persons, but I’m not aware of any law enforcement agency doing that. A lot of them specifically said they’re not going to do it.”

Jeffrey’s partner and fellow business attorney Christopher Byrd corroborated his clarification of the order’s phrase “every person in Texas.”

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“The onus is on the individual ‘wherever it is not feasible to maintain’ distancing,” Byrd said. “Those are loose words, and ostensibly to be interpreted by those who it’s being imposed upon, meaning every person.”

“Every person in Texas shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household,” the order GA-29 reads.

Jeffrey said the Bulverde Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce asked his firm to dispel confusion about the mask order that had arisen among local business owners convinced that not requiring masks would result in fines.

“GA-29… does not require any business to take any action regarding face covering for anyone,” the chamber’s press release reads. “Some previous Governor’s Orders contained mandates to businesses. Those Orders have expired and are no longer in effect.”

Much of the confusion came from the commanding language of protocols published by the Texas Department of State Health Services, who clarified in emails with Jeffrey that the state does not enforce them. Protocols for office employers say that employers “may operate their offices” only under certain conditions, and protocols for all employers say “those businesses and entities should follow the protocols relevant to operations of the business or entity.”

“DSHS does not enforce the health protocols, with the possible exception of those entities that are licensed by DSHS,” the department wrote. “Any other enforcement would be at the discretion of local officials.”

Byrd believes local mask mandates across the state will weaken, leaving only the flexible language of Abbott’s order which goes largely unenforced at the individual level where it applies.

“I think it’s loosening up myself,” Byrd said. “We see where there’s been a history of some of them imposed, and then they’re expiring.”

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.

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