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Abbott strikes down mask order fines statewide

Judge Lino Hidalgo, left, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Judge Lina Hidalgo, left, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

HOUSTON — Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in a press conference April 27, rejected some counties attempts to fine people for not wearing masks in public places.

“We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask,” he said. “However, it’s not a mandate, and we made it clear, no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine.”

The mask order has been a topic of debate and criticism in Harris County since the announcement by county Judge Lina Hidalgo on April 22, that every resident over age 10 is required to wear a mask by, following orders made in the San Antonio and Dallas areas, with many officials questioning the constitutionality and enforcement of such orders.

Covering your face while in public is being recommended by national and local health authorities,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in response to the Harris County mask order announcement. “While we encourage that you consider these recommendations for your own safety and the safety of others around you, I will not be mandating it because I believe it is unconstitutional to do so.

“Just as critical as getting our economy back up and running, it is important that elected officials uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution and ensure individual freedoms remain intact during and after this pandemic.”

The Houston Police Officers Union argued that the order would be hard to enforce and was “draconian.

“We encourage all of our citizens to wear a mask,” Joe Gamaldi, Houston police union president, told Fox News. “We want all citizens to wear masks. We draw the line in this draconian measure that our county judge wants to impose on all of our law-abiding, hardworking citizens of our community.”

Gamaldi said officers have been working hard to building a bridge to the community and the order goes against that vision.

“We work every single day to build that bridge with the community, to build that trust,” Gamaldi said. “And now this county judge wants to come in, Judge Lina Hidalgo, and she wants to erode all of that trust by having our officers go out into the community and question people on whether or not they're wearing a mask.”

Additionally, officials in the capitol criticized Hidalgo, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who accused her of abusing her authority. and justified citizens reacting with anger. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw defended mask orders but said punishing citizens would “lead us to government tyranny.”

Hours after the governor made his announcement, Hidalgo responded to Abbott and her critics with a statement to the local media.

“Harris County is the epicenter for the COVID-19 crisis in Texas and face coverings are one of the only weapons we have to stop the spread of the virus and reopen safely,” she said. “We have a face covering order today and we'll still have a face covering order tomorrow. In practical terms, the governor's order doesn't change much because, like every order we've issued so far, we'd made it clear that the priority was education.

“The fine was there as a signal of how vital mask wearing is, and in many ways, the community got that message. It's been disappointing to see folks politicize public health, and I hope this means they'll go back to focusing on health and safety instead of politics. As we have in the past, we will amend this order to conform with the governor’s."

While mask orders may not be enforced with penalties, businesses are free to require or encourage customers to wear a mask and to restrict entry to those who are not.

In a statement to ABC 13 in Houston, a representative for Kroger said the stores have provided masks for all their store associates to wear and will require employees to wear them.

“Our associates are also welcome to bring their own suitable masks or facial coverings to work, if they prefer,” the  representative said. “Additionally, we also encourage all our customers to wear a mask when they visit our stores, or alternatively, consider one of our ecommerce options available at"

Category: News