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Adler, Brown say they won’t back down as Paxton threatens suit

Thursday, March 11, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown Wednesday threatening a lawsuit if Austin and Travis County do not rescind rules devised by Austin’s health authority to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Those rules include the requirement that adults wear face masks when entering businesses. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott released an executive order rescinding statewide safety protocols, including the wearing of masks, beginning Wednesday, March 10.

Adler released the following statement: “Judge Brown and I will continue to do everything within our power, using every tool available to us to reduce the spread of the virus, to keep as many people alive as possible, to safely open up schools to more in-person learning and safely (operate) more businesses. We will fight Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Paxton’s assault against doctors and data for as long as we possibly can. Wearing masks is perhaps the most important thing we can do to slow the spread of Covid-19, to further open schools to more students for in-person learning, and to increasingly open businesses while minimizing the risk of any need to pull back. ”

In his letter, Paxton said he would take the city and county to court if they and Austin’s public health authority, Dr. Mark Escott, did not rescind the local mask mandate and any restrictions on business operations by 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Paxton also tweeted, “City/county leaders must not be thinking clearly. Maybe it’s oxygen deprivation from quintuple-masking. Whatever the case, they’ve tried this before. They lost.”

Brown told the Austin Monitor, “The main thing is we’ve vaccinated 9 percent of our county and until we get to 80 percent we shouldn’t take our masks off.” Paxton said Adler and Brown must rescind the health authority’s order by 6 p.m., but Paxton “knows good and well that the Open Meetings Act wouldn’t allow us to rescind that before 6 o’clock …. He’s also confused about the law.”

Brown said, “The most concerning part of all of this is that our attorney general thinks our local health authorities don’t have the power to tell people what to do in an outbreak.” Brown said he plans to spend his time preparing to help give out vaccines at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.

Paxton sued Austin, Travis County, Adler and Brown on Dec. 30 after they issued an order shutting down dine-in food and beverage services from New Year’s Eve through Jan. 3. A Travis County judge and the 3rd Court of Appeals rejected Paxton’s request for an injunction, but the Texas Supreme Court granted it on Jan. 1.

Adler said Wednesday that despite Paxton’s claim that the state would prevail again, Adler believes that the legal issues are different this time. The mayor is depending on rules developed by the local health authority, which are not set to expire until April 15. The parties can be expected to meet in court today or Friday.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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