Harris County files lawsuit against Abbott ban on mask mandates

Harris County files lawsuit against Abbott ban on mask mandates
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Harris County, Texas, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday seeking to challenge his ban on mask mandates, the latest county to challenge the order thus far.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement posted to Twitter that he is seeking to challenge Executive Order GA-38, which bans schools and other local authorities from imposing mask mandates.

Menefee said Abbott has “repeatedly misused his authority” when responding to the pandemic.

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“The current wave of the Delta variant presents a real and imminent threat to our lost vulnerable populations, and local officials need to be able to respond to this crisis. The governor’s executive order acknowledges this crisis, and then bans any meaningful acton to address it,” Menefee said.

“As hospitals become overwhelmed and schools look toward reopening, the 4.7 million people in Harris County deserve leadership that will enact measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” he continued.

Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Abbott, told The Hill in a statement that "the assertion that the Governor of the State of Texas doesn’t have the authority to protect the rights and freedoms of Texans is just plain misguided."

"This health disaster has continued to change, and so should our response. Texans have learned and mastered over the past year the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, and do not need the government to tell them how to do so," Eze said.

"Removing government mandates, however, does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for family members, friends, and your community. Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine."

The move from Harris County, which encompasses the city of Houston, came the same day that County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) issued a new mask mandate requiring masks be worn in schools and child care centers.

Hidalgo announced on Tuesday that the county authorized Menefee to file the lawsuit.

The suit follows that of other counties that have decided to pose legal challenges to Abbott’s order as a means to protect students preparing to return to in-person learning as the delta variant fuels a surge in infections.

Dallas County, which has filed a lawsuit over the executive order, reinstated its indoor mask mandate in businesses, schools and county buildings Wednesday evening. Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) have asked a court to block the mandate.

Bexar County and the city of San Antonio are also challenging the executive order in court. Officials there issued a new mask mandate earlier this week after a court issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state from enforcing Abbott's ban.

The Austin Independent School District and the Dallas Independent School District have both said they will impose mask mandates.

Updated at 1:47 p.m.