SAN ANTONIO – Editor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between the San Antonio Business Journal and KSAT.
With Gov. Greg Abbott blessing recent local orders that businesses require customers — such as retail shoppers — to wear masks, it's up to Bexar County and the city of San Antonio to determine how to enforce them. That includes how to issue fines to businesses not complying with the new mandates.
Though Abbott earlier told local governments that they lacked the authority to fine people for refusing to wear cloth face coverings, he said Wednesday that Bexar County could fine businesses that don't requires face masks in spaces where social distancing isn't possible. But while that's what the city and county plan to start doing on June 22, it remains unclear what such enforcement will look like.
For those business owners that find themselves facing fines — intentionally or not — there may be little recourse in court. Certainly, with Abbott's blessing, it will be difficult to make the case that the order isn't legal, lawyer Erica Valladares said.
“The county judge has the authority to regulate businesses in his jurisdiction,” she told the Business Journal. “But … even though the governor isn’t opposed, if there is another state statute that a business owner thinks should trump [the order], I imagine they might look for that as a possibility.”
At the time of publication, Valladares — an employment lawyer in Langley & Banack Inc.'s San Antonio office — couldn't point to such a statute. But that doesn't mean one doesn't exist — or that business owners and their lawyers won't try to find one.
Some may not have to worry about proving the order itself is illegal, however. There are multiple exemptions to the order that could prove tricky to enforce and could lead to challenges to overturn any fine.