HOUSTON - Harris County residents will now have to get their masks ready, as a mandate to wear masks in public goes into effect April 27.
The “face coverings” order was issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday, and violators will face a $1,000 fine, according to a county judge spokesperson.
“We want to make clear that this is not a recommendation,” said Hidalgo. “It’s a requirement, and so that’s why we had to make it enforceable by adding a fine.”
“Galveston County will not be issuing any orders mandating citizens to wear masks or face coverings in public,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry. “America was built upon the fabric of individual liberty and freedom. It’s important now more than ever that we stress personal responsibility.”
“As your county judge in consultation with our County Attorney’s Office, I do not find a statutory or legal basis that would allow me or anyone else in government to issue an order requiring citizens to wear a mask in public, especially under the fear of making it a criminal offense if they don’t,” said Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough. “Look, if you choose to wear a mask when you go into public, I support your right and your decision to do so. If you choose not to wear a mask, I support your right and decision not to wear a mask.”
People in Houston seemed to support the idea of everyone wearing masks.
“I can see the validity in it, because they’re trying to promote safety, so honestly I kind of agree with masks,” said Shira Perkins, a Harris County resident.
Some opinions changed when they found out a fine would be levied against violators of the new mandate.
“That’s money that I really don’t have to be spending on this stuff, and then yet I could get fined for that?” asked Sam Loza, who works in Harris County and lives in San Antonio where a similar mandate is in place. “That doesn’t make any sense … I think that’s really too harsh. I mean people still have the right to live free.”
“As far as like forcing us to wear a mask, I don’t feel like they’ve been giving us enough valid numbers to go ahead and start forcing us to wear a mask,” said Daniel Benoit who says he came to Houston from California on spring break and has been stuck in Houston ever since due to coronavirus.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued a scathing statement opposing the Harris County Judge’s new mandate and calling it “the ultimate government overreach.”
The lieutenant governor's full statement says: “On the same day Harris County Commissioner’s Court plans to close the $60 million-dollar pop-up hospital at NRG Park, because it wasn’t needed, Judge Lina Hidalgo orders anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public. Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach. These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger – and rightfully so.”
University of Houston law professor Emily Berman says she does not believe a penalty for not wearing a mask rises to the level of a civil liberties violation.
“Historically state and local governments have a significant amount of power to take action that they believe promotes the health, safety and welfare of the community,” Berman told FOX 26. “That’s true of many, many laws that tell us what we can and can’t do in the public sphere. You can’t speed. You have to wear your seatbelt. You can’t go to the bathroom in public—whatever it is that you choose. All of us have consented to have some of our decisions constrained by government for the purpose of living together in a functional society.”