Last week, Gunnison County ordered nonresidents, including those who own second homes there, to vacate the county. Violators face a fine of up to $5,000 and 18 months in jail, though exemptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis.
The county said Friday it has granted 199 exemption waivers so far to nonresidents who arrived before the virus forced ski areas to close. Most other nonresidents have been denied.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton took umbrage at the order. In a letter to Gunnison County Health Director Joni Reynolds on Thursday, Paxton stood up for the rights of oppressed Texans who own second homes in wealthy mountain enclaves.
Paxton specifically highlighted the U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause and accused Gunnison of treating Texans not “as a welcome visitor” but “an unfriendly alien.”
“While the Order contains other laudable measures aimed at protecting public health,” Paxton wrote, “its patent discrimination against non-resident homeowners — including Texans who own homes in Gunnison County — runs afoul of the United States Constitution.”
Gunnison ― along with many of Colorado’s central mountain counties ― was hit hard and early by coronavirus. The county curtailed public activity starting March 16, nine days before the rest of the state.
In a statement accompanying the order, Public Health Director Joni Reynolds said nonresidents are “creating issues” by disregarding stay-at-home orders and “imposing unnecessary burdens on health care, public services, first responders, food supplies and other essential services.”
Reynolds also noted that people with second homes in the county often arrive from lower altitudes and are therefore “at a greater risk for complications from COVID-19 infection than residents.”
Colorado has been under a statewide “stay-at-home” order since March 25, soon after the fast-spreading coronavirus forced all of the state’s ski areas to close.
“This pandemic is not a vacation,” Gov. Jared Polis (D) warned at the time. “If you need to recreate, do it in communities close to your home.”
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