As of May 1, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries in Texas were allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity, Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week — a move critics argue is worthless. Hair salons, barbers, and some other businesses remain closed.
Small business owners argue it’s hard to stay afloat operating at a 25 percent capacity and they are willing to violate state and local orders, which they argue violate their right to earn a living.
On Friday, the same day other businesses were allowed to reopen but hers wasn’t, Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner, opened her doors.
“We have a right to run a business and feed our children,” she said before roughly 100 people at a rally in Frisco, Texas.
“And if they want to lock those doors, I’ll put chairs out here and my stylists can work out here on the patio, gladly,” she said.
The city of Dallas gave her a citation, and she received a cease and desist letter from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
According to Abbott’s order, violators can be fined up to $1,000 and face 180 days in jail. Those with professional licenses may also receive penalties from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
While a hair stylist may be fined or jailed, the state of Texas is continuing to release inmates from county jails and prisons who have contracted the coronavirus. In Harris County, perpetrators arrested for murder are not admitted to jails who test positive for the coronavirus, according to social media posts by police officers. Instead, they are released into the population.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, urged Texans to go to work last week. He tweeted, “Open your business, they can’t jail us all.”
But in Harris County, Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted, “See a restaurant at full capacity? Businesses open that shouldn’t be? Help us save lives. If you see violations of Governor Abbott’s order, please report them.”
After widespread criticism the website the judge linked to was taken down within 24 hours.
As of May 4, in Harris County, 6,838 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 133 have reportedly died. Out of the 4.6 million residents of Harris County, those who have tested positive account for .001 percent of the population; those who have died represent .00002 percent of the population.
“When one rationally, with common sense, considers the current situation on COVID-19, the mathematics simply does not add up,” Shiva Ayyadurai, Ph.D., argues in an affidavit, accompanying a lawsuit filed last month against Judge Hidalgo and Gov. Abbott. “The reaction – or, more specifically the over-reaction – is dissonant to the incident and death rates of COVID-19 situation, particularly given the data on the annual and daily death rates of other public health events.”
Dallas-based investor Ray Washburne told Fox News that his restaurants gain no benefit by only operating at 25 percent occupancy.
“How am I supposed to know what capacity is?” Cary Cheshire at Texas Scorecard wrote.
“Do I expect police officers to be quickly dispatched to rigidly enforce this order in every instance? No,” Cheshire added. “But what does it say about Abbott’s leadership that I can’t actually be sure if I can go to my favorite burger joint without violating the law, but I am entirely confident that anyone can enter the door of an abortion clinic regardless of how many people are inside?
“Is that what a majority of Texans voted for? Is that what they expect from their leaders?”
Unlike Dallas and Harris counties, in Hood County, City Attorney Matthew Mills said his office will not prosecute anyone who violates certain provisions of Abbott’s order.
“My duty under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 2.01, is not to convict, but to see that justice is done,” Mills said in a statement to Texas Scorecard. “Prosecuting someone for going to work and earning an honest living is manifestly unjust.”
“It’s time for people to get back to work,” Mills said. “While I can’t prevent someone from getting arrested, I’m not going to prosecute someone for violating these unjust and unconstitutional orders.”
Mills, and numerous county judges, have submitted several requests to the state Attorney General’s Office requesting clarification on the state and local orders that appear to contradict the Texas Constitution and state regulatory code.
According to the Texas Workforce Commission, from March 14 to May 2, roughly 2 million Texans filed for unemployment because of the state’s stay-at-home order, more than double the number of those who filed for the entire year of 2019.
“This sort of dramatic increase in unemployment is unprecedented,” Michael Quinn Sullivan at Empower Texans said. “It isn’t due to economic cycles or the disruption of war. Per the government data, 100 percent of these newly unemployed find themselves in this position because of orders from state and local government in Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott, county judges, and mayors.”