Mask madness: Texas A.G. Paxton threatens legal action against City of Austin's mask mandate

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened to sue the City of Austin Wednesday over the city’s continuation of a mask mandate. Governor Abbott removed the statewide mask mandate last week and his order went into effect Wednesday. Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown are keeping a mask mandate in effect until April 15 to “avoid another surge of cases.”

I assume that the mayor and county judge (county CEO, not a judicial office) are concerned that newly free-to-be maskless Texans will throw caution to the wind. The Easter holiday is coming up and we are in the Spring Break season, too. The state is newly open at 100% now so gatherings and social events will bring together groups of people who would have otherwise been apart during the pandemic lockdowns. The more exposure to those outside your bubble, the more possible it is to come in contact with the highly contagious virus. Austin is home to the University of Texas, a very large public university. College kids can bring the coronavirus back to town from all around the country.

The county has mandated face masks on business premises since July, and people can be fined if they don’t comply. In Austin, people who are “outside of their residence” and people over the age of 6 who are on or in city property must wear masks.

Paxton told Adler and Brown that they had until 6:00 p.m. last night to rescind the mask mandate. No dice. As far as I can tell, nothing changed as 6:00 p.m. came and went. The war of words escalated.

Abbott’s executive order “supersedes local rules and regulations,” Paxton said. He added that only businesses could set mask mandates and that Austin and Travis County didn’t have the authority to threaten fines for noncompliance.

Adler responded hours later, saying Abbott and Paxton were “simply wrong.” He accused them of an “assault against doctors and data.”

Adler also referred to the devastating blackouts in February, when millions of Texans were left without power and clean drinking water.

Ouch. Republicans and Democrats are just as split in Texas as they are in Washington, D.C. Mask wars often turn on a political dime. Austin and Houston both have Democrat mayors and county judges. The governor and attorney general are both Republicans. Finger-pointing is a favorite pastime. Tweets were posted on both sides. The mayor’s office released a press statement titled Mayor Adler Responds to Letter from TexasAttorney General Ken Paxton Threatening Legal Action From the State Leaders Who Brought All Texas Residents, “No Power/No Water”, Now Say “No Masks” The art of nuanced writing is dead.

To be clear, the governor’s authority exceeds that of local and county authorities. However, many businesses are keeping mask requirements in place, at least for the time being. The same is true with many state and city buildings. City and county officials are continuing to wear masks and ask the general public to do the same.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, a partisan Democrat, told CNBC’s Shep Smith that his officers are “well-versed on the laws” and will arrest people who refuse to abide by a business’s mask policy for criminal trespass. And, going a step further, Acevedo reminded viewers that a criminal trespass warning can be issued which restricts the customer from entering the business for “at least a year.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who delivered a strong message to Texans who refuse to comply with private businesses’ policies on wearing masks, said that business property rights in the Lone Star State give them the tools to keep the peace.

“Our officers are well-versed on the laws, there’s something called ‘criminal trespass’ here in the state of Texas, and if a business asks an individual to wear the mask and they refuse to leave, they can be arrested for criminal trespass,” said Acevedo.

The chief said they can also issue someone a criminal trespass warning, which would prohibit them from entering the establishment for at least a year.

In a Tuesday evening interview on CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith,” Acevedo said that Texas businesses have property rights and some will choose to “follow science and require masks,” regardless of the expiration of the statewide mask order on March 10.

Acevedo says that businesses will “follow science and require masks.” Got that? The police chief is now parroting the buzz words of Democrats who think just saying the word “science” in a sentence legitimizes an argument. He confirmed that his police officers will continue to wear face masks, at least until they are all vaccinated. Again, the governor leaves the use of face masks to the discretion of the individual. As a matter of fact, the governor also asks Texans to continue to wear a mask indoors in public spaces and to social distance. Everyone is “following the science”, I guess.

As far as I’m concerned, little has changed since yesterday when the state fully reopened and the mask mandate expired. I continue to mask up when I leave my house. I try to avoid going into establishments, preferring to use drive-thru windows whenever possible. I still have groceries delivered but to be fair, I began doing that before the pandemic locked us down. At midnight last night, I received a notification that I could sign up for vaccination. I did so and also signed up my husband. We’re going next week. So, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Life will be more normal in the near future if everything continues as it is going now. After the first and second jabs are complete, we’ll re-think the mask precautions.