Montgomery County judge calls Gov. Abbott’s executive orders unclear

Judge to allow all businesses to reopen Friday

HOUSTON – All Montgomery County businesses will be free to reopen on Friday despite Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order requiring some to remain closed.

County Judge Mark J. Keough says he will not enforce the order because it is too vague.

Abbott announced a phased reopening of Texas Monday, saying in Phase 1 that begins Friday, restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters malls, museums and libraries may reopen 25% occupancy while following social distancing guidelines. However, other businesses like beauty and barber shops, gyms, bars, and tattoo parlors will not be allowed to reopen yet. Abbott said it would be mid-May before they are allowed to reopen, provided there are no flare-ups of the virus following Phase 1.

After releasing his executive order Monday, Abbott said he’s still working on guidelines for reopening those businesses. However, some minimum health protocols are in place for the businesses that will be allowed to reopen Friday.

“Today’s announcement is not the end of the work, we go to work this afternoon on solutions for businesses like hair salons," Abbott said Monday.

But Keough says the governor’s order is too vague to be enforced.

“We are not going to be issuing tickets on things that we cannot get clarity on. I can tell you that. This is not clear.” he said.

Keough said the problem is that even though Abbott said those businesses would remain closed in his remarks Monday, his executive order doesn’t say that. Rather, it encourages customers to avoid them.

The order reads in part:

“People shall avoid visiting bars, gyms, public swimming pools, interactive amusement venues such as bowling alleys and video arcades, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios, or cosmetology salons.”

Keough says Abbott "needs to say these businesses are closed until further notice. The order does not say that. It says people should avoid these businesses.”

Without clarification, Keough says the governor’s order can’t be legally enforced and that it won’t be in Montgomery County.

“I informed the people today, unless the governor comes out with a clarification, as far as we’re concerned, you can be open. But, we’re not going to enforce it one way or another," Keough said.

If other counties follow suit and elect to enact a hard and fast return to business as usual, it could raise concerns about controlling the spread of coronavirus.

A staff member with Keough’s office said late Tuesday that Abbott agreed that the order was vague and is planning to issue a clarification.

The attorney general’s office said they would release a revision of the governor’s order Thursday afternoon.

Read Gov. Greg Abbott’s full executive order below: