Travis County judge pushes back against attorney general's reprimand of stay-at-home order

In response to a May 12 letter from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton calling aspects of Travis County's coronavirus-related public health order unlawful, interim Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe has issued a letter of his own pushing back against the attorney general's warning.

"These unlawful and unenforceable requirements include strict and unconstitutional demands for houses of worship, unnecessary and onerous restrictions on allowing essential services to operate, such as tracking customers who visit certain restaurants, penalties for not wearing masks, shelter-in-place demands, criminal penalties for violating state or local health orders, and failing to differentiate between recommendations and mandates," Paxton's office wrote in a May 12 press release regarding his letter to Travis County—as well as Dallas and Bexar counties and the mayors of Austin and San Antonio.

Biscoe's letter, sent to Ryan Vassar, deputy attorney general for legal counsel, on May 29 takes issue with Paxton's assessment that Travis County's May 8 local order conflicts with Gov. Greg Abbott's orders and exceeds the county judge's authority. Specifically, Biscoe said Travis County's order actually only recommends masking of individuals over the age of 10, and does not require it, as Paxton purported in his letter. Biscoe said the county had already removed confinement as a punishment for neglecting to wear a mask, making the order compliant with the governor's.

Biscoe also refuted Paxton's assertion that Travis County's order is overly restrictive to houses of worship.

"The County Order also does not restrict Houses of Worship and your statement that, 'your orders provide that essential services, such as houses of worship, ‘shall’ comply with certain restrictions ...' is incorrect," Biscoe wrote. "This language is not in the County Order. Instead, the County Order incorporates the Governor’s Order and exceptions for obtaining essential services, including religious services."


The county's May 8 order—which is in effect until June 15, when Biscoe will have to decide whether to issue a new order—also includes a stay-home mandate, which Biscoe said is in no way inconsistent with state orders.

"Because the County Order incorporates all of the Governor’s exceptions, there is no conflict and the end result is the same," he wrote. "The clear purpose of the County Order is to protect the health and safety of the Travis County community from COVID-19, which is consistent with the Governor’s directives. The County Order puts added emphasis on individuals voluntarily following the guidelines and health protocols issued by the Austin-Travis County Health Authority and the CDC. This is also consistent with recommendations that the Governor has made."
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.



MOST RECENT

Fitness studio Body20 is coming soon to Bee Cave's Hill Country Galleria. (Courtesy Giant Noise Public Relations)
New fitness studio, candy pop-up shop coming to Hill Country Galleria

A new candy pop-up shop and fitness studio are coming to Bee Cave's Hill Country Galleria.

Photo of Austin Community College pharmacy students preparing vaccines
Austin Public Health ramps up COVID-19 booster shot offerings, prepares for pediatric vaccines

High-risk individuals who received Pfizer are Moderna doses six months ago or more are now eligible for boosters—as are most recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Oak   Lotus Yoga Studio opened in mid-August. (Courtesy Oak   Lotus Yoga Studio)
4 wellness businesses that are now open, coming soon or being renovated in Southwest Austin

A new yoga studio and a martial arts studio are among businesses opening and remodeling in the area.

Madrone Coffee opened Oct. 2 in Southwest Austin. (Deeda Lovett/Community Impact Newspaper)
Here are 2 coffee shops new to Southwest Austin

One coffee shop offers Greek eats, while another resides in a historic building.

The first-ever Williamson County Fair and Rodeo opens its gates to guests Oct. 21 with live music, carnival rides, food vendors, rodeo events and more. (Courtesy Pexels)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Inaugural Williamson County Fair and Rodeo underway; delivery drones coming to Friso and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 22.

The newly approved transportation masterplan for Dripping Springs will add several minor arterial roads around downtown. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dripping Springs officials say proposed roads will not cut through properties

The conceptual transportation plan, approved Oct. 19, identifies locations for new roads that would connect congested roadways in the city.

In addition to the crossing signal, the corridor program office will add high-visibility crosswalks. (Courtesy Austin Corridor Program Office)
New pedestrian crossing signal coming to William Cannon Drive and McCarty Lane intersection

Construction work on the 2016 Mobility Bond project will largely occur Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey briefed City Council on Austin's spending of more than $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding on homelessness Oct. 21. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Officials share outlook of 3-year plan to house 3,000 homeless people in Austin

Although the path to build more than 1,000 new spaces for those without shelter will take time, officials believe the goals are achievable.

Photo off APD sign
Austin police cadet academy review notes positive strides but says instructors lack buy-in to 'reimagined' concept

Reforms at the Austin Police Department academy are mixed so far, while the department and outside evaluators agree on several potential improvements going forward.

The Turkey Trot is returning in person after a virtual year. (Courtesy ThunderCloud Subs)
12 events to fall for in Austin this October & November

From voting on Election Day to enjoying food and drinks, here is a roundup of area activities happening this fall.

Cumby Group is planning development for three adjacent multifamily projects on Manor Road in East Austin, including The Emma apartments. (Courtesy Cumby Group)
3 years in, Austin is falling behind on goals in affordable housing plan

From 2018-20, the city only reached 12% of its 10-year goal to build thousands of new homes and rental units.