Officials in Austin, Texas, are defying Governor Greg Abbott by continuing to require masks after the statewide mandate expires on Wednesday.
The Austin City Council announced its order on Tuesday, saying that it stemmed from recommendations by Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott.
‘In Austin, we’re committed to saving lives. Period,’ Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar said, according to KXAN.
‘If state officials don’t want to do their jobs protecting people from the virus, then we will.
‘This action is both legal and the right thing to do. If state officials choose to sue, they’ll be going out of their way to harm the health of Texans.’
Abbott announced an end to the statewide mask mandate – effective March 10 – and business capacity limits last week under a sweeping rollback of coronavirus restrictions, declaring: ‘It’s time to reopen Texas 100%.’
On Tuesday the governor adhered to the mandate on its last day as he visited the border city of Mission to hold a press conference about illegal immigration.
Officials in Austin, Texas, are defying Governor Greg Abbott by continuing to require masks after the statewide mandate expires on Wednesday. Abbott adhered to the mandate on its last day on Tuesday as he visited the border city of Mission to hold a press conference (pictured)
The Austin City Council announced its local mask mandate on Tuesday, saying that it stemmed from recommendations by Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. Pictured: People without masks stand outside a bar in Austin on March 4
Abbott was seen disembarking from a helicopter in Mission’s Anzalduas Park wearing a black mask after an aerial tour of the border wall.
Meanwhile state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have launched a campaign to limit his emergency powers during declared disasters in response to criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and snow storms that left thousands of Texas residents without power last month.
Several pieces of legislation aimed at that goal have already been filed, including Senate Joint Resolution 45, which would require the governor to call a special session with lawmakers if he wanted to renew a disaster declaration beyond 30 days or issue a new order related to an existing disaster declaration.
‘The biggest thing on my plate is emergency powers and rebalancing the role of the Legislature with the executive branch,’ State Sen Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), who filed the resolution, told KWTX. Fourteen other senators from both parties have signaled their support for Birdwell’s bill.
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, speculated that Abbott is taking major steps to reopen the state to appease Republican lawmakers.
‘He did see some of these bills filed in the early days of the Legislature and wanted to take some of the air out of the balloon,’ Jillson told KWTX.
‘Rather than allow the Legislature to sort of angrily limit his authority, he’s saying: “Let’s work together to do this.”‘
Abbott was seen disembarking from a helicopter in Mission’s Anzalduas Park wearing a black mask after an aerial tour of the border wall on Tuesday (pictured)
Abbott announced an end to the statewide mask mandate – effective March 10 – and business capacity limits last week under a sweeping rollback of coronavirus restrictions, declaring: ‘It’s time to reopen Texas 100%.’ Pictured: A woman removes a sign reminding patrons to wear masks at a public library in Plano, Texas, on Tuesday
Austin Mayor Steve Adler had issued a statement after Abbott’s announcement last week, saying that the state should follow ‘science and data’, which supports continued mask-wearing.
Casar, the councilmember, accused Abbott of ‘endangering Texans’ lives so that he can score political points’.
‘Locally, we are working around the clock to care for the sick, we’re wearing masks and we’re providing help to those who need it, despite the recklessness and cowardice of our governor,’ he said.
In an interview with KXAN, Casar urged Abbott not to try to overrule Austin’s mask mandate.
‘I hope that the state government keeps focusing on vaccine distribution and things that protect people’s health, rather than using their limited resources to come and try to mess with Austin again,’ he said.
‘We’re doing our best to actually keep the level of infections and hospitalizations amongst the lowest of the big cities in the state, and that’s what we want to keep on doing. I hope the state will support us in that, rather than continuing these legal challenges and fights.’
Escott, the county’s top health official, explained how the local mask order will be enforced at a press conference on Tuesday.
‘If an individual enters a business that requires a mask and is not wearing a mask, and they are asked to leave and they do not, they’re trespassing,’ Escott said.
‘That’s a crime they can be arrested for. They can’t be arrested for not wearing a mask. They can be arrested for trespassing. If that trespassing involves violence or threats, it’s going to increase the level of the crime that’s involved.’
Casar urged anyone who witnesses a mask violation to call 311 so the city can send out code enforcement officers.