TYLER, Texas (KETK) – State House Representative Matt Schaefer has filed two bills that would strip Gov. Greg Abbott’s authority to create a mask mandate in response to the coronavirus pandemic last year and take away criminal penalties for violating orders created under disaster declarations.
Schaefer said that a governor “can’t create a crime [and] also enforce the crime. That violates separation of powers. No one person should ever have that power.”
The Tyler representative’s bills go after the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which helps state and local officials better coordinate resources during disasters. However, the act also gives the governor brief increases in power.
Section 12 of the law states that “The governor may issue executive orders, proclamations, and regulations and amend or rescind them. Executive orders, proclamations, and regulations have the force and effect of law.”
H.B. 2097 would amend this clause to include that a governor, or any other lower local official, may not issue an executive order or proclamation that “requires a person to wear a mask or personal protective equipment unless expressly provided by statute.”
H.B. 2098 would completely repeal Section 173 of the Texas Disaster Act, which criminalizes “failure to comply with a rule, order, or ordinance” that is adopted under a disaster declaration. The maximum penalty allowed under Texas law is a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
Under Abbott’s mask mandate that was created through executive order back in July, first-time violators would be issued a verbal or written warning. Subsequent violators would be fined $250.
Gov. Abbott did state that no law enforcement “may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order.”
Shaefer has been one of Abbott’s biggest conservative critics for his response to the pandemic. During stay-at-home orders last April, he told Abbott to “get out of the way” and allow local leaders to decide whether to shut down.
The Texas Freedom Caucus, which Shaefer helped found, said that “It is ultimately the individual Texan’s responsibility to keep themselves safe, and to ensure the safety of those who cannot protect themselves.”