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Dallas County Commissioners Limit Jenkins’ Pandemic Power

Dallas County Commissioners chipped away at Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ power Tuesday.
Dallas County Commissioners chipped away at Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ power Tuesday.
Food and Drug Administration

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price won a significant fight with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Tuesday afternoon, expanding the county's definition of essential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring that the full Commissioners Court will have a say in how long the county's shelter-in-place order lasts.

At a specially called court meeting Thursday, Price was the lone vote against extending Dallas County's emergency order — the document that gives Jenkins his extraordinary powers during the pandemic — because he felt Jenkins' handling of the crisis has unduly burdened his low-income constituents.

In communities that don't have easy access to banking, Price argued, pawn shops are a necessity when cash is tight. Jenkins may not have ever needed help from a pawn broker, but Price had, the commissioner said.

Monday night, Jenkins changed the county's disaster order to allow pawn shops and check-cashing businesses to open back up, so long as pawn shops don't lend money at more than 15% interest and abide by the county's social-distancing requirements. Check-cashing business can't charge fees of more than 2% of the check amount or $2, whichever is greater, if they want to stay in compliance.

In addition to affirming Jenkins' decision to put pawnbrokers and check-cashers back in business — the court's declaring them essential means the judge can't change his mind — the commissioners also voted to require Jenkins to get majority approval from the court to extend Dallas County's shelter-in-place order.

Jenkins could have extended the order through May 20 unilaterally, had the court not taken action.

The county judge is also now required to give the Commissioners Court a three-hour heads-up before making any "further restrictions on essential businesses."

The notice is intended to allow the commissioners to call an emergency meeting if they want to push back on Jenkins' proposed restrictions.

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