AUSTIN, Texas — Seeking to end a political firestorm over a Dallas salon owner jailed for defying his statewide stay-at-home order, Gov. Greg Abbott modified the order Thursday prohibiting local officials from jailing Texans for violating any of his numerous coronavirus-related executive orders.
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in a statement. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”
In a statement Thursday, Abbott said the order, “if correctly applied,” should free Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther and protect two Laredo women arrested for offering beauty and cosmetic services from their home.
But it was Luther who caught the attention of three of the state’s top Republicans — Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Luther was sentenced to a week in jail and hit with a $7,000 fine after she opened Salon à la Mode nearly two weeks ago and ignored a cease-and-desist order by state District Judge Eric Moyé.
The fine and jail sentence came days before barbershops and hair salons will be allowed to reopen Friday under an executive order issued Tuesday by Abbott. Under Abbott’s previous stay-at-home order, issued in March, salons and other nonessential businesses were required to close.
On Wednesday, Abbott said jail time should be the last resort for those who disobey his executive order.
But after receiving pushback from some conservative activists and lawmakers, who argued that his comments didn’t go far enough in criticizing government overreach, Abbott modified his orders Thursday and prohibited jail time for violators.
Republicans took to Twitter to praise Abbott’s action Thursday.
“I am pleased to see @GregAbbott — TX has removed jail as a punishment for violating exective orders. Some local officials have been reckless, imprisoning women for wanting to work to put food on the table for their children,” said state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano.
“Fantastic decision. Thank you,” said state Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls.
Other Republicans offered backhanded praise.
“Gov. Abbott, throwing Texans in jail whose businesses shut down through no fault of their own is wrong. Thank you for admitting that,” said state Rep. Mike Lang, R-Granbury.
Abbott’s updated order comes the same day the governor will head to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump.
The two are expected to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus as Abbott has set in place a plan to reopen much of the Texas economy by May 18.
Retail stores, restaurants, malls, museums, libraries and movie theaters were allowed to reopen last Friday at 25% capacity. Barber shops and salons can reopen Friday. And May 18, non-essential manufacturing and office-based businesses can reopen.
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