Two Texas judges ruled that the governor cannot prevent counties from imposing local mask mandates.
Judges in Dallas and Bexar counties on Tuesday issued separate rulings temporarily blocking an executive order by Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott that outlaws local mask ordinances. Officials in San Antonio and Dallas filed lawsuits against the policy as Covid-19 infection rates and hospitalizations in Texas have soared, prompting the governor to ask hospitals to limit optional procedures to free up beds for more Covid victims.
Dallas County’s top elected official “cannot be precluded from implementing the mitigation strategies he believes are sound, reliable and backed by scientific evidence,” the judge ruled in that case. A temporary restraining order is in place until Aug. 24, when the judge set another hearing on the matter.
The rulings are part of a larger national debate over mask mandates as the highly contagious delta variant spreads. Florida parents have sued Governor Ron DeSantis for blocking local school district mask mandates, even as Covid infections and hospitalizations surge in that state. Abbott has repeatedly defended his stance as a call for personal responsibility over what he considers authoritarian action by the state.
Representatives of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The fight also implicates decisions by companies requiring customers to wear masks or show proof of vaccination. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. on Sunday won a preliminary injunction overriding a Florida law that prohibited the company from requiring passengers to prove they’d gotten Covid shots before boarding a ship.
At least seven states, including Arizona and Arkansas, have banned local school districts from requiring masks on students. Other states, like California and Washington, have required masks in public schools, but left flexibility for districts and private schools. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance, citing the nationwide upwelling of delta infections, that all school children and staff should wear masks while indoors.
Abbott’s order threatens school districts with hefty fines if they require students or staff to wear masks –- a requirement that school district leaders in San Antonio and Dallas have defiantly announced for the fall semester that begins in a few weeks.
In temporarily blocking the Texas governor’s mask ban, state judge Antonia Arteaga in Bexar County said local public health officials’ concerns for school children swayed her thinking, according to The San Antonio Report, a local non-profit newsroom.
“The governor is not vested with authority to control everything that happens in the state,” Brent Walker, a lawyer for Dallas County’s top official said Tuesday in the Dallas court proceeding. “People are going to die unless we start doing more.”
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