Texas AG threatens legal action as city of Austin restricts food and drink service for New Year’s


People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, June 26, 2020. – Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas have spiked in recent weeks after being one of the first states to begin reopening. (Photo by Sergio FLORES / AFP) (Photo by SERGIO FLORES/AFP via Getty Images)

AUSTIN (NewsNation Now) — Warning of a critical situation of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases, Austin officials moved Wednesday to tamp down social gatherings and parties over New Year’s with more limits on dine-in and drink service at restaurants and bars.

Under the order, any venues serving food and drinks will not be closed entirely but will be limited to drive-thru, curbside, delivery or take-out service from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night from Thursday until Sunday morning. The city is also strongly encouraging restaurants to offer only drive-thru, curbside pick-up, take-out or delivery services between 6:00 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.

The order drew a swift rebuke from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans.

 Paxton sent a letter to the city and Travis County threatening legal action if it is not rescinded. The full letter is below:

In his letter, Paxton said the order improperly restricts business hours in violation of a previous order by the governor. The Texas Restaurant Association also called it unfair restriction on business.

Travis County said it had received the letter and is reviewing it with the County Attorney’s office.

Both El Paso and Bexar counties instituted curfews over holidays earlier this year, but did not receive the same kind of pushback from the governor.

Abbott slammed the order in a tweet saying “This shutdown order by Austin isn’t allowed. Period. My executive order stops cities like Austin from arbitrarily shutting down businesses. The city has a responsibility to enforce existing orders, not make new ones.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said health officials want the public to avoid large social gatherings to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, as local and state officials grapple with record numbers of hospitalizations and new cases even as vaccines begin to roll out.

“We are now facing our most dangerous surge prospects,” Adler said Wednesday.

Texas has previously sued local governments that attempted strict shutdown orders. But Paxton didn’t raise objections when San Antonio, less than 100 miles south of Austin, applied similar restrictions over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Adler said city attorneys were consulted on the Austin order. Travis County Judge Andy Brown called it the “most narrowly tailored thing we could think of.”

The Texas Restaurant Association released a statement supporting both Abbott and Paxton for “defending Austin restaurants.”

The association argues restaurants are doing all they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — and claims that restrictions around eateries are “not rooted in data” and unlikely to decrease numbers.

Texas hit record highs of more than 11,700 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, and more than 26,900 new confirmed cases on Tuesday according to data complied by Johns Hopkins University. The state has reported more than 26,000 deaths.

Abbott and state health officials have urged vaccine providers to move faster in distributing shots. As of Tuesday, state health officials reported that more than 600,000 doses had been received but only about 163,000 had been given out.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.

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