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Texas Bars Sue Governor Over Covid-19 Shutdowns

A dozen bar owners and others Monday sued Texas Governor Greg Abbott over his recent order shutting down all bars in the state in an effort to curb the spread Covid-19.

(CN) — A dozen bar owners and others Monday sued Texas Governor Greg Abbott over his recent order shutting down all bars in the state in an effort to curb the spread Covid-19. 

On Friday, Abbott cited “Texans congregating in bars” as one reason the state had recently experienced a sharp increase of new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. The governor issued an order that reduced the number of people allowed in restaurants, museums and other venues, and required bars to close.

“The rights plaintiffs enjoy are being trampled on by defendants, while millions of individuals have lost their jobs and thousands of businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy,” bar owners argued in the suit filed in Travis County District Court. “If defendants’ conduct is not restrained and declared unconstitutional, once this virus passes, the rights enjoyed by plaintiffs under the Texas Constitution will be forever damaged.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill, who chaired the Harris County Republican Party for more than a dozen years. 

The plaintiffs contend it is unfair for salons, tattoo parlors and piercing studios to remain open while bars are told to close shop.

“Clearly, bar owners have less interaction, proximity, or frequency with patrons than beauticians, or cosmetologists, or tattoo artists,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs also argue that Abbott’s order suspends state laws, which they say only the Texas Legislature may do. Texas’ House and Senate normally meet once every two years and the 87th Texas Legislature is planned to convene next in January 2021.

“Will we allow defendants to set precedent for future governmental remedies related to viruses or diseases?” the lawsuit asks. “Will we continue to allow defendants to take away our liberties and destroy the economy — where does it stop?”

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced Monday that state agents had visited 1,500 bars over the weekend and found 59 open.

Of these, 52 agreed to shut down immediately. The seven bars that refused to budge received 30-day suspensions on their bar licenses. The owners of three of these bars are plaintiffs in Monday’s suit.

Woodfill previously challenged Harris County’s stay-home order, claiming it violated Texans’ religious liberties.

In an interview with Texas Tribune, Woodfill likened Abbott’s orders to tyranny.

“Why does he continue unilaterally acting like a king?” Woodfill asked of Abbott. “He’s sentencing bar owners to bankruptcy.”

Woodfill did not immediately return a request for comment Monday evening. 

The plaintiffs ask for the businesses to be allowed to reopen and request nominal and compensatory damages.

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