Texas AG: Gunnison County’s ban of non-residents during coronavirus outbreak is unconstitutional

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DENVER – The Texas Attorney General says Gunnison County’s public health order temporarily banning non-resident homeowners from living there is unconstitutional.

Gunnison County’s Fifth Amended Standing Health Order, issued on April 3, prohibits “all non-residents, including non-resident homeowners, from remaining in Gunnison County” during the duration of the order.

The order states non-residents, tourists, as well as non-resident homeowners are at a greater risk for complications should they contract the novel coronavirus because they’re not used to the area’s high altitude, and argues they impose “an unnecessary burden” not only on the county’s health care system, but on public services, food supplies and other essential services.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said such an order was unconstitutional in a letter sent to Joni Reynolds, the director of the Gunnison County Department of Health and Human Services.

“It discriminates against nonresident homeowners by entirely prohibiting their ingress to the county and enjoyment of their real and personal property in the county,” Paxton said in the letter dated April 9. “Resident homeowners, on the other hand, are under no such prohibition.”

While Gunnison County’s order does not allow anyone but residents of the county to be there through the course of the pandemic, non-residents can still ask for an exemption or waiver from the health department to be allowed to stay – which Paxton argues is a vague rule written in the order.

“There are no criteria for judging such exemptions, or any indication whether exemptions will be freely allowed,” he said in the letter, adding it’s difficult to judge whether restrictions barring non-resident homeowners “bears any relationship to the interest of public health.”

Gunnison County’s order may stand out from the rest, but the county isn’t the first to issue strict mandates in the interest of public health.

Vail Resort employees were told on March 18 to “urgently” leave housing in Eagle County and return to their primary residences as Colorado was operating under a State of Emergency at the time.

Other Colorado counties have imposed travel restrictions to non-residents who were still looking to recreate before the state’s stay-at-home order prohibited them from doing so.

On March 27, Gilpin County closed off its roads choking off access to some National Forest lands and state parks.

Early Thursday, Clear Creek County commissioners voted to close all county roads to non-residents starting Saturday to hopefully reduce activity in the county during the coronavirus outbreak in the state.

By Thursday evening, Grand County officials were asking visitors to follow Gov. Polis’ public health order “and stay home – at their primary residence.” The letter also stated it would not prevent owners from occupying their properties in Grand County, but asked visitors and non-residential owners “to exercise smart judgment” as the county’s health care resources are limited.

Denver7 reached out to both Reynolds and the Texas Attorney General’s Office, but neither returned our request for comment.