District Attorney Joe Gonzales
District Attorney Joe Gonzales Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he was elated by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery’s ruling Tuesday that all voters in Texas qualify for a mail-in ballot during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I can tell you right now, we’re dancing in the streets,” he said. “Thank goodness someone stood up to protect the vulnerable in our community.”

Though Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday he intended to appeal the federal judge’s decision, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales assured that voters who felt they needed an absentee ballot could apply for one.

“If they perceive that the potential transmission [of coronavirus] is a concern to them, by definition, this really means that that is a disability and that does qualify them for a mail-in ballot,” he said. “So sure, at least for today, voters that fit that category … if you request a mail-in ballot because of this reason, then you’re entitled to receive a ballot.” 

Gonzales joined City Attorney Andy Segovia Tuesday for the mayor and county judge’s daily media briefing. He and Segovia also touched on the new local orders issued by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Wolff on Tuesday. Those orders were issued with the intention of aligning more closely with Gov. Greg Abbott’s language in his May 18 order, Gonzales said.

“I think it’s important that the citizens again know that the mayor and the judge want to be consistent,” Gonzales said. “That’s the first part of the local order … that their local order is going to mirror and is going to be consistent with whatever the governor has done with his executive order.” 

Bexar County reported 2,278 coronavirus cases Tuesday, a daily increase of 65 since Monday. Eighty COVID-19 patients are in the hospital; 35 of those are in intensive care, and 20 are on ventilators. The county’s testing capacity has increased to 3,960, Nirenberg said. That includes all private labs in the county.

The City and County orders remove the language that requires people to wear masks in public places where social distancing is difficult, and instead “strongly encourages” residents to do so. Both orders also explicitly state that “covered services” as defined by Abbott’s May 18 order – which include religious services in churches – are not bound by occupancy limits, one of the things that Paxton claimed was “unconstitutional and unlawful.”

The City’s order also includes additional language about nursing home visitation restrictions and requirements for all labs to report coronavirus test results by 5 p.m. each day.

Both orders urge residents to avoid antibody tests that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They also state that violating any portion of the local orders (except for the recommendation to wear face coverings) can result in a fine of up to $1,000.

“There are elements to local orders that simply can’t be covered at the state level, and we want to continue those,” Nirenberg said.

The County’s order continues to prohibit price gouging and extends the foreclosure suspension to July 6. Because the Texas Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the County was unable to extend eviction proceeding suspensions, Wolff said.

“But our [justices of the peace] are not going to come back to work on June 1,” Wolff said. “The only thing I’ve asked them to do is to work with the tenants and with the landlords to work out some kind of a payment schedule.”

About half of San Antonio’s housing units fall under the federal coronavirus relief bill moratorium that halts eviction proceedings until July, City Attorney Andy Segovia said. The federal evictions moratorium applies to landlords with federally backed mortgages.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.