May 8, 2020 -- A few days after a Dallas hair salon owner was jailed for keeping her business open in defiance of state coronavirus restrictions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott modified his executive order to eliminate jail time as a punishment for those kinds of violations.
“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 said in a statement issued Thursday. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order. This order is retroactive to April 2nd, supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther.”
“As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place,” the governor said.
Luther and other business owners were cited last month when they refused to follow Abbott's order that some businesses shut down, the Associated Press reported.
On Tuesday, a judge found Luther in civil and criminal contempt of court for defying the state restrictions and was sentenced to 7 days in jail and fined $500, television station KLTV reported.
When Luther appeared at the video court hearing on Tuesday, Judge Eric Moye told her he'd consider only fining her if she'd apologize and not reopen until the state said it was allowed, KLTV reported. Luther refused.
“Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she said, according to KTLV. “If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
Several state officials came to Luther's defense, including Abbott himself, who called the punishment excessive.
“Compliance with executive orders during this pandemic is important to ensure public safety; however, surely there are less restrictive means to achieving that goal than jailing a Texas mother,” the governor said in his statement.
U.S. Sen Ted Cruz tweeted: “7 days in jail for cutting hair?? This is NUTS. And government officials don't get to order citizens to apologize to them for daring to earn a living.”
Texas is moving ahead with the reopening of its economy, and Abbott recently said hair salons and barber shops can legally start taking customers on Friday.