In the early hours of Thursday, lawmakers in the state moved closer to implementing a statewide ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by employers.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jeff Leach, emphasized that the intention was not to interfere with employers’ ability to protect their workforce or to dictate which vaccines are good or bad. Instead, the core issue revolves around who should have the authority to make vaccination decisions, as reported by The Texas Tribune.
Senate Bill 7, authored by state Rep. Mayes Middleton, prohibits private businesses from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for their employees and contractors. The legislation permits healthcare facilities to enforce protective measures, such as mask-wearing, for unvaccinated workers to safeguard medically vulnerable patients.
The bill passed the Texas House on a 91-54 vote, with all Republicans in favor and most Democrats opposed. The bill will now go to conference committee to work out changes made by the House before it can reach Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Enforcement of this legislation would rely on employee complaints to the Texas Workforce Commission. Violators would be subject to a substantial fine, with the House version proposing a $50,000 penalty, while the Senate version suggests a fine ranging from $1 to $10,000.
Advocates of SB 7 argue that it safeguards individuals’ rights to make their own healthcare decisions without facing adverse employment consequences. Opponents express concerns about the potential impact on healthcare professionals’ ability to implement vaccine policies that reduce the risk of viral transmission among patients.
Critics also argue that the legislation may infringe on the rights of business owners to set their own policies.
“This is the political environment that is being created not only for our medical community, but now our businesses,” Rep. Ann Johnson said. “So remember when people tell you they’re pro-business. Figure out how they vote on this bill.”
Efforts to extend the ban to private businesses come in the wake of Gov. Abbott ending the statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration over the summer. This declaration had been maintained for three years, with Abbott lifting it only after lawmakers codified his executive orders that restricted local COVID-19 restrictions.