Gov. Abbott: Texans can no longer be jailed for violating COVID-19 orders

(Designed by José Dennis/Community Impact Newspaper)
(Designed by José Dennis/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Designed by José Dennis/Community Impact Newspaper)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an update May 7 regarding a change to his COVID-19 executive order to ensure residents are not put in jail for violating the orders.

“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” he said in the May 7 press release. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”

He added this modification is retroactive to April 2, and it supersedes any local orders.

Abbott’s March 31, April 17, April 27 and May 5 executive orders stated violations were punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, confinement in jail up to 180 days or both.

“As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place,” Abbott said in the release.

This change comes two days after Dallas business owner Shelley Luther was sentenced to seven days in jail after refusing to shut down her salon, a violation of shelter-in-place orders, according to Texas Tribune reporting.

Both Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Abbott issued May 6 statements saying they disagreed with the Dallas judge’s decision and urged the release of Luther.

“Jailing Texans for non-compliance with executive orders should always be the last available option,” Abbott said in his May 6 statement. “Compliance with executive orders during this pandemic is important to ensure public safety; however, surely there are less restrictive means to achieving that goal than jailing a Texas mother."

In the May 7 press release, Abbott stated Luther should be released under the retroactive modification to the executive order. He also mentioned two Laredo residents who were arrested to ensure they will not be confined in jail.

"If correctly applied, [this order] should free Shelley Luther," Abbott said in the release. "It may also ensure that other Texans like Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata who were arrested in Laredo, should not be subject to confinement."