The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter Tuesday to leaders of three major metropolitan areas in the state, including Dallas County, that says some elements of their local public health orders are "unlawful" because they contradict executive orders issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
One of the letters, written by Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan M. Vassar, was addressed to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
The first Dallas County recommendation Vassar addressed that he said contradicted with Abbott's order regarded houses of worship. In Jenkins' order, issued Thursday, places of worship were listed among the places that must follow the "Minimum Standard Health Protocols" in "The Governor's Report to Open Texas."
However, Vassar wrote it is recommended churches follow the guidelines, but not required.
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Also on May 8, Jenkins said law offices could not yet open, however Vassar wrote they could operate, as they support the judicial system, which is listed as an essential business.
“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 in a written statement. "I ask the public to make decisions based on the recommendations of public health professionals: our lives depend on it. You can find recommendations from local public health experts at www.DallasCountyCOVID.org by downloading Dallas County COVID-19 Health Guidance for the Public.”
Vassar wrote Jenkins' order required Dallas County residents to wear a mask when patronizing a business or using public transportation. Jenkins' May 8 order said residents should wear a face covering "to the greatest extent possible," and went on to say a law enforcement officer could not detain or arrest someone for failing to wear one.
Finally, the letter mentions a shelter-in-place order for Dallas County that Jenkins issued April 23 and initially ran through May 15. Jenkins issued an amended order May 8 and many Dallas County businesses deemed "non-essential" have already reopened at 25% capacity, in accordance with Abbott's orders.
"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 in a written statement. "I trust that local officials will act quickly to correct any orders that unlawfully conflict with Texas law and Governor Abbott's Executive Orders."
Paxton's office also addressed a letter to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and another to Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart and Austin Mayor Stephen Adler.
Read Jenkins' May 8 supplemental order below.