Public Notice: Texas vs. Austin vs. COVID-19

In the courts and schools and bars, the battle rages

Public Notice: Texas vs. Austin vs. COVID-19

Gov. Greg Abbott and his state government are waging war against local citizens on two fronts this week: first, as I wrote about last week, fighting school districts to stop their masking requirements as the fall semester begins, and even as schools are already reporting COVID outbreaks; and second, starting last Thurs­day, threatening the liquor licenses of restaurants and bars that want to require that their customers be vaccinated.

Both of these are fluid situations at press time. Regarding the mask mandates, Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened lawsuits against various school districts, but virtually all the major urban districts, and many smaller ones as well, have instituted mandatory mask policies and are sticking with them so far, waiting for the next legal shoe to drop. That may or may not happen, because Paxton knows he's not likely to find courts sympathetic to his "put teachers and kids at risk" rallying cry, but you never know.

Meanwhile, the ability of businesses to set their own COVID policies is more up in the air – the issue being the recently passed Senate Bill 968, which states: "A business in this state may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer's COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery on entry to, to gain access to, or to receive service from the business." The bill further tasks state agencies with ensuring that businesses comply with the law, specifically as a condition for maintaining licenses necessary to do business. Which is how the TABC wound up becoming the enforcement arm for the state Senate on this.

As various people have pointed out, however, the law says nothing about requiring proof of a negative COVID test; indeed, that's an accepted standard in some industries. By extension, it seems that businesses ought to be able to require that patrons either show that negative test, or in the alternative show proof of vaccination. But at press time that's just a legal theory: One club advertising that policy late last week was told that they would be in violation if they went through with it, but since then a number of others have used the same protocol without hearing from TABC about it; the latest high-profile case appears to be the Willie Nelson show coming up this weekend. So, we shall see.

I should note a special interest here: The Chronicle has been intending to require Vax-or-Test at our upcoming Hot Sauce Festival (back in person this year – Sunday, Sept. 12, at Far Out Lounge), but we've put that policy on hold, like everyone else, while we and the club wait for clarity from the TABC on what reasonable health policies we can do to keep our patrons safe and comfortable being around each other.

See lots more about both sides of this issue here.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro at austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

COVID-19, Greg Abbott, Senate Bill 968

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