Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In Pro-Business Texas, Can Abbott Ban ‘Vaccine Passport’ Requirements For Customers?

Jernej Furman /Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a measure into law this week that makes it illegal for private businesses to require patrons to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

For some, the moved seemed controversial in a state known for its pro-business stance. It has also led to some complications for businesses like cruise ship operators that are concerned about following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, traveling to ports with different COVID-19 rules and having unvaccinated people on a vessel.

University of Houston business law professor Dietrich von Biedenfeld told Texas Standard that Abbott does have the authority to bar so-called vaccine passports. That’s because federal law only goes as far as allowing businesses to require vaccinations from their employees – not their patrons.

“One of the challenges is the federal government’s failure to come up with a national or unified standard on what vaccine permissions or requirements can be allowed outside of the employment relationships,” von Biedenfeld said. “This is a new sphere.”

He says Abbott used the Legislature to build the law against vaccine passports, and will use state agencies within the executive branch to enforce it. Enforcement will include revoking permits for businesses that require vaccinations from patrons.

Von Biedenfeld expects a legal battle over the law, especially if the cruise industry can’t come to a compromise with the state. He says the 2018 Masterpiece Cake Shop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case could offer some clue about the legal future of Texas’ law. The court ultimately reversed Colorado’s decision that the cake shop discriminated against a customer for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

“Do we have permission to control our private businesses?” Von Biedenfeld said.

Even if vaccine passport rules are taken out of the state’s hands, he says private business associations, like the approximately 300,000-member National Restaurant Association, will likely struggle to come up with a “cohesive strategy” to replace it because their membership is so diverse.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and Thanks for donating today.

Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
Related Content