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Group of Texas sheriffs won't enforce governor's 'draconian' coronavirus mask rule

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A group of Texas sheriffs is refusing to follow one of the state's coronavirus rules.

Police officials in nine counties said they will not enforce a recent executive order mandating that residents wear face coverings in public. Denton, Houston, Montgomery, Gillespie, Upshur, Kerr, Gregg, Nacogdoches and Panola counties won’t issue citations to those not in compliance, officials said, with one calling the rule “draconian.”

The rule states that officers can issue a fine up to $250 to repeat offenders but cannot detain or jail them. Some argue the language is ambiguous, as stopping people not wearing masks could be seen as detaining them.

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“While we in law enforcement are desperately trying to build trust w/our [with our] community and are spread incredibly thin with the huge rise in violent crime, we are now expected to enforce yet another draconian mask law,” Houston Police Officers' Union President Joe Gamaldi wrote in a recent Twitter post. “Everyone needs to wear a mask, but don’t put us in this position.”

Some authorities behind the decision cited staffing issues for opting out of the requirement, a CBS report noted, while others pointed to confusing language in Gov. Greg Abbott’s order.

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"The order is not a law, there is no requirement that any police officer enforce it, and it's unenforceable," Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree wrote on Facebook. "We can't spend our time running from place to place for calls about masks we can really do nothing about."

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The news comes as COVID-19 cases in Texas are on the rise. The state passed more than 10,000 confirmed positive cases in a single day Tuesday, bringing its total to more than 210,000.

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