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Texas AG says Dallas County can't require people to wear masks

In a letter sent to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, AG Ken Paxton said local orders can't be stricter than statewide executive orders.

Updated at 5:50 p.m. with a statement from Clay Jenkins. 

Dallas County officials can't require people to wear at masks or stay at home, according to a letter sent Tuesday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. 

The letter says local orders cannot conflict with Gov. Greg Abbott's executive orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Similar letters were sent to officials in Bexar and Travis counties. 

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he encourages the public to follow guidelines laid out by health experts. 

“We intentionally modeled the public health guidelines based on the Governor’s recommendations, never imagining he did not want his own guidelines followed," Jenkins said in a written statement. 

The AG letter to Jenkins states that Dallas County's public health order "exceeds the county's lawful authority and that it is likely to confuse residents." 

The AG's office said the county should "act quickly to correct mistakes like these" to avoid litigation. 

There are four areas in which the county's order conflicts with Abbott's order, according to the letter. 

Those are:

  • limitations to church services
  • what defines an essential business
  • ordering people to wear masks 
  • requiring residents to shelter-in-place

The Dallas County order does say, "to the greatest extent possible all persons over the age of two (2) shall wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth," suggesting that masks are required.  

Though the governor has repeatedly encouraged people to wear masks, his executive order does not require people to do so when they go out. During a news conference announcing steps for Texas businesses to reopen, he said local governments can't penalize people for not wearing masks. 

"Instead, the governor's order recognizes that Texans will act responsibly and make smart decisions to protect themselves and their families," the letter from Paxton's office says. "In contrast, your order purports to strip Texans of their agency." 

The letter also states that local governments can't restrict essential or reopened businesses. The statewide order "recommends, but does not mandate," that businesses follow health guidelines from the White House, the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It also says the Dallas County order inaccurately does not consider law offices essential businesses. 

And, the letter from Paxton says Dallas County cannot limit the number of people at worship services. 

RELATED: Even with governor's green light, many Dallas-area churches choose to remain closed

Read the full letter: 

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