Henderson County Commissioners extended the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration on Tuesday, but did not add a requirement for residents to shelter in place.
The extension is until April 7. It differs from the one issued by County Judge Wade McKinney in that it incorporates Governor Greg Abbott's executive order into its wording. It also includes a penalty for violation.
"It's punishable for $1,000 an offense and up to 180 days in jail and every day is a new violation," County Attorney Clint Davis said. "You could stack up some hefty penalties fast by defying the order of the Governor."
Precinct 1 Commissioner Scotty Thomas asked if the county could have made the extension longer. Davis said it could have been set for up to 30 days.
"In discussions with Judge McKinney, we seem to think the court would be inclined to review it every two weeks anyway," Davis said.
County judges have the flexibility to react to changing situations, McKinney said. He can issue a declaration that remains in effect for seven days, but for it to continue longer, it must be ratified by Commissioners Court.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Scott Tuley asked if Davis if the county judge could issue a shelter in place order or would he have to wait for the Commissioners Court to convene and adopt one. Davis said McKinney has that authority.
"There are a lot of people who are relying on us to make good, sound judgments here," McKinney said. "The impact of what we are going through is not only personal, but economic and economic becomes personal to a lot of people rather quickly."
McKinney said, if the governor issues a declaration that augments the ones currently in effect, the county declaration will change to reflect that.
Shelter in place is the next step in the emergency response process. McKinney said he is not aware of any step beyond that.
Davis said any tightening of the regulations regarding the public's behavior or mobility should be done in graduated steps. He said some businesses are currently trying to defy the governor's orders.
"We need some time," Davis said. "We are working with those businesses to be sure they comply."
As of Tuesday morning, more than 200 Texas counties had no confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In his announcement on Sunday, Abbott said conditions differ in different counties and the local governments have some leeway to act accordingly.
"Local officials have the authority to implement more strict standards than I, as governor, have implemented in the state of Texas, "Abbott said. "If they choose to do so I would applaud them for doing so, but at this time it is not the appropriate approach to mandate that same strict standard across every area of the state, especially at a time when we are yet to see the results coming out of my most recent executive order."
Commissioners also voted to:
• approve rules and guidelines governing the management of the COVID-19 Outbreak;
• approve the county investment policy;
• approve a right-of-way permit for the Crescent Heights Water Supply Corporation in Precinct 1 for a leak repair on County Road 1500;
• authorize payment of 2019 bills totaling $1,844.48 and
• authorize payment of 2020 bills totaling $216,119.43.