Texas Attorney General accuses Bexar County, San Antonio of overreaching in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Letter states orders on churches, essential businesses and masks conflict with governor’s orders

A man wears a face mask as he leaves a business that remains open in downtown San Antonio, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. San Antonio remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 outbreak and residents are required to wear face coverings or masks whenever in public. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – A letter from the Texas Attorney General’s office sent Tuesday accused Bexar County and San Antonio of exceeding its lawful authority through its local executive orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The attorney general’s office took issue with multiple parts of San Antonio’s local orders including directives on church services, essential businesses and masks. The office sent similar letters to Travis and Dallas counties as well.

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Bexar County’s orders previously included limits on the number of people allowed in a house of worship. The state’s orders do not allow for such limits, writes Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.

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“... Unlike the governor’s order, which respects the robust constitutional and statutory rights protecting Texans’ free exercise of religion, your local orders unlawfully trample religious freedom and expose the county and the city to legal lability,” deputy attorney general Ryan Vassar wrote in the letter.

“That’s false,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Tuesday night during the daily briefing on COVID-19.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia echoed similar sentiments in a statement put out Tuesday evening:

The City and County have taken great pains to align their local orders with the Governor’s. The Attorney General’s mischaracterizations of the local orders overlook these efforts and the specific language within them to construe inconsistencies where there are none. More importantly, it undermines the language of the Governor’s order that allows local officials to facilitate implementation and enforcement of his order.

Andy Segovia, San Antonio City Attorney

Vassar also wrote that Bexar County’s orders impose unlawful restrictions on businesses.

“For example, all essential businesses must provide masks to employees under the terms of your order,” Vassar wrote.

Because that could restrict essential or reopened businesses, those orders are also invalid, the attorney general’s office claims.

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San Antonio’s local orders, mandating that anyone over the age of 10 must wear a mask when leaving their residence, is also superseded by the statewide order, Vassar wrote. The local ordinance does not include punishment for those who don’t wear one in the city limits.

“We trust you will act quickly to correct these mistakes to avoid further confusion and litigation challenging these unconstitutional and unlawful restrictions,” Vassar wrote.

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