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Texas Supreme Court halts enforcement of Austin dine-in curfew

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the local orders "cannot be allowed to stand."

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court has blocked the Austin and Travis County orders that require dine-in beverage and food service to stop from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.

This comes after Paxton said he would be asking for the emergency stay with the Supreme Court of Texas, urging the court to halt enforcement of the orders.

"The city and county orders clearly violate the governor’s Executive Order No. 32," said Paxton. "Local authorities have no authority to override it."

Paxton said the orders "cannot be allowed to stand."

"We cannot have local declarations conflicting with Gov. Abbott’s clear order," he said.

"WE WON! Texas Supreme Court stops Mayor Adler’s illegal order shutting down restaurants and bars. #AustinTx #COVID19 #victory," Paxton tweeted.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown gave the following statement upon the news of the Texas Supreme Court's decision: 

“I am disappointed by the Texas Supreme Court decision as it limits our ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. I continue to encourage everyone in Travis County to celebrate and eat safely at home until our overall COVID-19 numbers have decreased. I also would ask everyone to consider supporting local restaurants by ordering food for takeout as I did with my family last night.” 

Justin Berry, the vice president of the Austin Police Association, responded to the news on Twitter.

"It is time we focus on solutions and living, rather than harming others & promoting despair. The service industry needs our help just as much as those who worry about getting covid. Great job @EllenTroxclair @aaron_reitz @mkelly007 @GovAbbott @TXAG @TXRestAssoc #VICTORY," Berry tweeted.

On Thursday night, crowds were ringing in the new year in a sight that looked almost pre-pandemic. A curfew was imposed for the holiday weekend to stop Austin bars and restaurants serving patrons for dine-in from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., through Jan. 3.

But on Sixth Street throughout the night, there were long lines to get into the bars downtown, and many people weren't wearing masks. Inside, crowds could be seen dancing and hugging. A KVUE photographer reported in one bar, none of the bartenders had a mask on.

Now, those bars could face a fine of up to $1,000. A City dashboard shows several COVID-19 complaints called in on Thursday night downtown.

On Thursday, a Travis County district judge sided with the City of Austin to keep the new year holiday weekend restrictions on dine-in services at Austin-Travis County bars and restaurants.

RELATED: Judge sides with Austin, Travis County to keep New Year's dine-in curfew

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum denied the requests for temporary restraining order and temporary injunction filed by the State of Texas, saying "the State has not demonstrated a probable right to the relief sought nor imminent and irreparable harm."

Despite the court ruling, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, "The Governor's statewide executive order allows food establishments to be open for in-person dining on New Year’s Eve as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.  They should remain open. Happy New Year!"

In a news conference on Thursday afternoon before the ruling, people with the Texas Attorney General’s Office encouraged business owners to be thoughtful before listening to those new rules in Austin and Travis County.

“I would encourage you to look at what your rights are to open tonight,” said First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster. “And then if you get a citation that I encourage you to get a lawyer and I encourage you to fight that citation. OK, so that's not legal advice, but that's just how our legal system works. You have rights and you need to not forget that.”

Former Travis County Judge and Texas State Senator Sarah Eckhardt responded to Abbott's tweet on Thursday evening.

"The Governor, a former Supreme Court Justice, is telling Texans to break the law because he disagrees with the judicial branch’s ruling," Eckhardt tweeted. "This is extremely damaging to our separation of powers and Governor Abbott should know better."

The Attorney General’s Office said it is appealing the decision. Texas Attorney General Paxton filed an appeal in the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals, urging the court to halt enforcement of Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s and Travis County Judge Andy Brown’s orders. By 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve, the Third Court of Appeals had denied Paxton's emergency appeal, Adler confirmed to KVUE.

There is also a question about enforcement of the weekend dine-in curfew. Austin police say they'll increase their presence downtown the next few nights, but it's not clear if they'll be handing out any tickets. Sometimes the City's Code Enforcement team does that, but they only work until 8 p.m.

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