Texas AG Says 'Stay Home' Orders Can't Stop State Workers

Law360 (March 25, 2020, 10:17 PM EDT) -- “Stay home” orders issued by local Texas governments can’t force state agencies or state workers and contractors to stop providing governmental services and traveling to and from their places of work during the COVID-19 outbreak, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday.

Paxton said that Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide disaster declaration issued last week ordered that all critical infrastructure will stay open during the pandemic and that the declaration can’t be superseded by orders from counties and cities.

“Our state government offices provide services that are essential to the public,” Paxton said in a release. “Governor Abbott’s executive order makes the need for continued, unburdened operation of state offices clear. It is our duty to protect and provide for Texans, and we are committed to serving our citizens during this health crisis.”

Local officials can control what stays open and how people move during a disaster, he said, but their quarantine orders can’t trump the state’s jurisdiction. The Lone Star State is subordinate only to the U.S. Constitution and its own, Paxton said.

Abbott’s order told state agencies to provide flexible work and telecommuting policies for agency employees, saying it was up to each agency to decide how to do things.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Friday that a Texas Department of State Health Services contractor was fired after criticizing, to the newspaper, the agency’s decision to force workers to come into the office

A number of cities, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio, and Waco, and counties have issued stay home orders during the outbreak.

Several Texas federal and county courts have postponed trials and, in some cases, halted non-essential court activities.

Wednesday’s letter is at the least the second major declaration from Paxton this week.

On Monday, he warned health care providers not to move forward with "any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother."

Paxton's warning stemmed from an executive order that Abbott signed on Sunday to preserve health care resources for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The Texas attorney general on Monday threatened fines and up to 180 days in jail for providers who defy the order.

"Those who violate the governor's order will be met with the full force of the law," Paxton wrote.

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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