Texas Senate passes ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Legislation to ban private employers from imposing COVID-19 vaccine requirements on their employees has passed the Texas Senate, with 19 Republicans in unified support and 12 Democrats against, clearing the way for the bill to head to the lower chamber.

Support from the entire Senate Republican caucus came after one report claimed a GOP senator would oppose the bill, but that did not prove to be the case.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement Friday after Senate Bill (SB) 7 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) passed the chamber, pointing to a new law banning local governments from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Patrick said this was part of his effort to protect medical freedom.

“The passage of SB 7 will return medical freedom to Texans and ensure that they will not lose their livelihood over their personal health decisions,” Patrick said. “The Texas Senate will pass this bill over and over again until it passes the Texas House.”

The House State Affairs Committee held the first public hearing on the bill Monday morning, with Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) sponsoring it.

Leach has pointed out that the existing bill only pertains to private employers and has advocated for expanding it to apply to government employers. However, he has also noted Gov. Greg Abbott would need to expand the scope of the special session agenda to include a more comprehensive bill.

“I look forward to continuing to lead the charge in the Texas House to get this bill – maybe even a stronger version of it – over the finish line very soon,” Leach wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Thank you to (Middleton) for partnering with me on this important issue and thank you (Patrick) for getting it over to us so quickly,” Leach said, adding, “We’ll get it done!”

Leach received pushback against the bill from several House Democrats, including Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), during the hearing. Anchia questioned whether the legislation would prevent employers from being able to protect the health of other employees, and took issue with the bill’s enforcement mechanism via the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

Instead of creating a private cause of action to enforce the prohibition, the bill would allow employees to file complaints with the TWC if they believe their employer violated the COVID-19 vaccine mandate ban. From there, TWC could issue a fine or request the Texas Office of the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief against employers if the violation persists.

The bill remains pending in committee and is expected to move forward Thursday when the House reconvenes at 10 a.m.

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