Texas has lifted a majority of COVID-19 restrictions. Businesses are open. Kids are in school. And people who want the vaccine are able to get it.

Despite these advancements and the continuing decrease in new COVID-19 cases, some local officials in Texas have continued to demand that people stay home. For example, until yesterday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo still had the threat alert of COVID-19 at Level 1: Severe, which calls for people to stay home. After multiple call outs to lower the threat level, Harris County is now at Threat Level 2.

The governor’s most recent COVID-19 protocols allows for increased capacity and further openings in trauma areas that are under 15% of COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of Sunday, Houston was only at 4.7%. In fact, every trauma service area in Texas remained under 5% in COVID-19 hospitalizations, except for one around 8%. Even further, the statewide percentage is at 3.4%.

Harris County isn’t the only one either. Hidalgo County remains at threat level 1, despite their COVID-19 hospitalizations remaining below the threshold at 5.8%. With the statewide restrictions light or completely lifted and the COVID-19 cases down, local officials should not be using fear to keep people in line. Nor should they be using criminal penalties to force compliance.

Unfortunately, both of these trends have been quite apparent over the last 13 months. Texans should not be threatened into compliance by their local officials. Texans should not face criminal penalties for not wearing a face mask or doing their jobs.

Senate Bill 1616, authored by Senator Bettencourt, would ensure that local officials cannot continue these trends. The past 13 months have been difficult and we’ve learned a lot. One thing we’ve learned is that using fear and threatening jail are not how to ensure the safety of Texans.