One of Gov. Abbott’s central priorities for the third special session of the 87th Texas Legislature, which began on Monday, is to determine the extent of restrictions on COVID-19 vaccine mandates. As the bills filed so far suggest, lawmakers in the majority party are eager to enforce such restrictions.
In his proclamation announcing the state’s third special session earlier this month, Abbott said he will consider and act upon:
“Legislation regarding whether any state or local governmental entities in Texas can mandate that an individual receive a COVID-19 vaccine and, if so, what exemptions should apply to such mandate.”
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Lawmakers have filed a variety of bills aimed at accomplishing this goal, although they differ in their approach. Some, like Senate Bill 14, are straightforward, explicitly calling for the prohibition of vaccine mandates by the state government. Filed by Sen. Bob Hall (R – Dallas), SB 14 allows any individuals who are subject to government-mandated vaccination requirements to seek injunctive relief in district court and be reimbursed for litigation costs.
A similar bill from Hall, SB 13, also prohibits a government vaccine requirement, but allows one only for state employees. However, it permits state employees to opt out of the requirement for “reasons of conscience,” including religious beliefs.
Rep. Steve Toth’s House Bill 14 requires any contract the state or a political subdivision makes with a private company to include a provision prohibiting the company from requiring employees to be vaccinated.
In addition to preventing mandates from the government, some bills target private entities as well. Rep. Bryan Slaton’s HB 33 prohibits companies and hospitals from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. Facilities who violate the bill commit a Class B misdemeanor and will lose their license for five years. Toth’s HB 18 also prohibits employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated, but specifically uses an individual’s bodily autonomy as justification.
SB 11, filed by Hall, prohibits employers from using an individual’s vaccination status as a factor in recruitment. It also prevents the government from requiring vaccines as a condition for using government-provided services. Hall’s SB 12 says any individual who experiences an “injury caused by an adverse reaction” to COVID vaccinations resulting from their employer’s vaccine requirement are entitled to worker’s compensation.
HB 37, filed by Rep. Candy Noble (R – Murphy), allows for employer vaccine mandates, but — like Hall’s government-specific bill — allows employees to opt out for “reasons of conscience.” Individuals must complete a vaccination exemption affidavit explaining their reason for exempting themselves and return it to their employer.
Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R – Arlington) filed HB 86 to regulate school-based vaccine mandates. Under this bill, public or private schools that require students to be vaccinated are subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000. Schools in violation will also lose their eligibility to receive grant money from the state government or enter into a contract payable with state funds.
Another bill from Rep. Valoree Swanson (R – Spring), HB 71, prohibits providers from refusing to serve Medicaid or child health plan recipients who aren’t vaccinated.