Rule to Fine People Without Masks in Public Irks Houston Police

Houston police are balking at handing out fines to unmasked residents under a new rule set to take effect Monday to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Officers contend enforcement would damage community relationships, and they oppose the mask order announced late Wednesday by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

The Houston Police Officers’ Union said it is seeking an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether the rule is legal.

Dr. Steven Hotze, a Houston-area physician and conservative political activist filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block Hidalgo’s order. The suit asserts the judge exceeded her authority by issuing an order “contrary to and more restrictive” than those of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), according to Hotze’s petition in Harris County District Court.

The new rule applies to all residents aged 10 and older and will remain in effect for 30 days. Facial coverings may include a scarf, bandana, handkerchief, or homemade mask, Hidalgo said.

Exceptions include not having to wear a mask during exercise or physical activity outside alone or when driving or alone in a separate indoor or outdoor space. A fine of $1,000 could be levied for noncompliance, Hildago’s spokeswomanMelissa Arredondo said.

“Everyone should be wearing a mask in public, I wear 1 everyday,” police union President Joe Gamaldi said in a statement posted Wednesday on Twitter. “But making not wearing 1 punishable by law, and asking our officers to enforce it, will do irreparable damage to our relationship with the community. We are already stretched too thin without having to enforce this.”

Houston joins other big Texas cities that require wearing a mask in public, including San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Stinson in Austin, Texas at pstinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

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