The tug-of-war between Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Texas' state leadership is getting rougher. Monday, Jenkins introduced the county's own system for determining when it's safe for residents to get back to their daily lives, thumbing his nose at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is opening up the state at a far quicker pace than preferred by the judge.
Tuesday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Jenkins that several of Jenkins' emergency orders intended to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus pandemic are illegal.
“Unfortunately, a few Texas counties and cities seem to have confused recommendations with requirements and have grossly exceeded state law to impose their own will on private citizens and businesses. These letters seek to avoid any public confusion as we reopen the state,” Paxton said. “I trust that local officials will act quickly to correct any orders that unlawfully conflict with Texas law and Governor Abbott’s Executive Orders.”
According to the letter emailed to Jenkins by Paxton, Dallas County cannot, as it's been doing, limit the number of attendees at churches in the county. Jenkins also can't mandate residents and visitors wear masks when they're conducting business in the county, nor can the judge redefine which businesses are essential.
Jenkins has ordered that any business not following appropriate physical distancing and hygiene measures be shut down. According to Paxton, Abbott's orders reopening the state encourage, but don't mandate, businesses take steps such as those ordered by Jenkins to fight the virus.
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"Your order provides that businesses that do not comply with your order may be removed from the the list of essential or reopened services," Paxton writes. "As we have explained, the governor's order prohibits a local order from restricting essential or reopened services."
Paxton's letter also kneecaps the remaining portions of Jenkins' stay-at-home order. Abbott's order, Paxton says, "only requires Texans to minimize social gathering and in-person contact with people who do not live in the same household." Jenkins orders prohibiting gatherings and requiring Dallas residents to shelter-in-place are unlawful, given Abbott's order, according to Paxton.
Late Tuesday, Jenkins responded to Paxton's missive.
“We intentionally modeled the public health guidelines based on the governor’s recommendations, never imagining he did not want his own guidelines followed," Jenkins said. "I ask the public to make decisions based on the recommendations of public health professionals: Our lives depend on it."