May 7, 2020 / 6:23 PM / in 23 days

Texas governor bans jail time for coronavirus lockdown violations

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday banned the jailing of anybody in the state who defied his orders to shut businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that followed an outcry over the arrest and incarceration of a Dallas salon owner.

FILE PHOTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

“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, a Republican, said in a written statement.

The Texas Supreme Court quickly upheld Abbott’s order, which was issued two days after Shelley Luther was arrested and put in the Dallas County jail for opening her business, Salon à la Mode, in defiance of a closure order across the state.

Luther was sentenced to serve one week as punishment. She was freed on Thursday afternoon.

The order will also benefit two women who were arrested last month in Laredo, Texas, for providing salon services and arrested during what local authorities called a sting operation. The two women were already free on bond.

Luther’s case became a rallying cause for protesters and others in Texas who want to see the state open up faster.

Texas, which has one of the lowest per-capita death rates in the country from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is in the vanguard of states seeking to restart the economy despite the pandemic.

Restaurants, retailers and other stores reopened this week - but on condition that they only allow in 25% of normal capacity. Salons across Texas will be able to open again on Friday as part of the reopening plan.

Luther’s salon and all others across the state were closed on March 22 because of the pandemic. She publicly railed against Abbott’s orders then, saying she and her salon staff could not feed their children without income.

Luther reopened her salon on April 24.

A day later, surrounded by boisterous supporters calling for businesses to reopen, Luther tore up a cease-and-desist order she had received from a Dallas County judge ordering her to close her shop. She kept her salon open.

Dallas County Judge Eric Moye said on Tuesday during a hearing that he would not order Luther jailed if she acknowledged that her actions were selfish and apologized.

“I have to disagree with you sir, when you say that I’m selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish,” Luther said, refusing to apologize.

Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney

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