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Texas Legislature passes ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates from private employers

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted by the Central Texas Allied Health Institute in partnernship with the African American Youth Harvest Foundation in Austin, TX on Mar. 27, 2021.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Texas employers found in violation of Senate Bill 7 would be fined $50,000 and face potential injunctive action by the Office of the Attorney General.

Private employers in Texas will soon be banned from requiring their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Texas Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 7 on Tuesday. It now heads to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk, where it’s expected he will sign it into law.

The measure, part of a years-long effort by Republicans to do away with restrictions and medical efforts associated with the pandemic, was one of several issues Abbott asked lawmakers to address in the current special legislative session which ends next week.

Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, said his proposal “protects the individual, their choice” to not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Everyone deserves to make that choice for themselves and they shouldn’t be forced to have to decide between providing for their family and their sincerely held beliefs about the COVID vaccine,” Middleton said Tuesday.

Under SB 7, businesses found in violation would be fined $50,000 and face potential injunctive action by the Office of the Attorney General. The Texas Workforce Commission would be tasked with creating rules around the fines.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, voted for SB 7 but expressed apprehension with the fine associated with the bill. He said he supported the $10,000 fine in the original version of the proposal.

“I did want to center this to recognize we are mandating on small business owners who risked it all to start their businesses and the $50,000, frankly, could be what a lot of them make in a year,” Hancock said.

Under the bill, employers who take corrective measures would not have to pay the fine.

Pro-business groups are against the legislation. The National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Texas Association of Business both registered their opposition.

In a statement to The Texas Newsroom last week, Glenn Hamer, the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, warned about the impact of the measure.

“Penalizing employers $50,000 for certain operational decisions as a first time offense could endanger the survival of impacted small businesses," Hamer said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, suggested that Republicans who support the measure, like Middleton, only support the right for people to make choices over their bodies when it’s convenient.

“The author's statement of intent is that individuals should be able to make personal, medical decisions without the fear of retribution from their employer,” Eckhard told Middleton. “But you don’t believe that a person should make medical decisions without fear of retribution with regards to reproductive health care.”

All abortions are banned in Texas except if a patient is at risk of death.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the Texas Capitol Reporter for The Texas Newsroom. Got a tip? Email him at smb@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel.
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