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Debate In Texas Over Face Mask Mandate Intensifies As Coronavirus Cases Climb

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - As Covid-19 cases continue rising in North Texas and statewide, the debate over mandating people to wear face masks is intensifying.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wants Governor Greg Abbott to legally require everyone to wear masks or allow local leaders to require it.

"He could do it himself or he could allow us to do it. The important thing is that it gets done."

Judge Jenkins said issuing a small fine would encourage people to comply. "To get compliance, you have to have some requirements. Those fines would be no greater than a parking ticket. So in Dallas that's $30."

If given the authority, he said he would consult with public health doctors to advise him where to require people to wear masks.

One person wears face mask, one person does not
(CBS 11)

But Judge Jenkins mentioned that people should wear them inside buildings other than their homes, when taking public transportation, and outside if they can't properly socially-distance.

Governor Abbott said Tuesday that while he has consistently advocated that Texans wear face coverings, he disagreed Tuesday that there needs to be a legal requirement for wearing a mask.

"That is exactly what I believe the Dallas County Judge wants to do is throw people in jail and that's wrong. Judge Jenkins has had available to him other tools of enforcement and he hasn't lifted a finger."

Those tools include having law enforcement and codes officers check to make sure businesses are limiting occupancy as required.

In response, Judge Jenkins said, "The city of Dallas and the county are sending our inspectors out and checking on capacity limits. The last thing we want to do is put people in jail for wearing a mask. It's not the fault of every Mayor in Texas or every County Judge in Texas that the Governor took away the enforcement mechanisms and the power they had to keep people safe."

Nine mayors, including those from Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Plano and Grand Prairie, sent a letter to the Governor asking for local control. "A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option. We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy."

In response to the Mayors' letter, the Governor's office issued a statement, "None of these local officials have lifted a finger to impose penalties and enforcement mechanisms currently available to them."

But Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said while he supports giving local leaders the option, he doesn't support such a mandate in Plano. "Realistically, to mandate to wear masks I think is an enforcement nightmare and I'm not about to have our public safety officers running around for people that don't have masks."

Judge Jenkins said if local leaders are allowed to legally require residents to wear masks, he believes Dallas County

Commissioners would support the mandate and issuing fines.

Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel said she supports Judge Jenkins' position, but Commissioner J.J. Koch, the Commissioner Court's lone Republican, said he opposed it.

The Chief of Staff for Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia said she supports everyone wearing a face mask, but has some concerns about issuing citations and fines "as these would probably fall disproportionately on Latin-X and African-Americans."

CBS 11 emailed Commissioner John Wiley Price's office for a response, but never heard back.

A couple of Dallas residents were split on whether people should be fined for not wearing a mask.

Abbie Adams said, "Yes, if it's enforced, why not follow the rules."

Drew Thompson disagreed. "It would kind of bother me if that's the route he decides to take."

Residents, state and county leaders do agree that a key part of this is personal responsibility.

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