This article has been updated to correct the current number of lawmakers calling for a fourth special session.
Despite activists, organizations, a steadily growing list of Texas lawmakers, and the Republican Party of Texas imploring Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a fourth special legislative session to address vaccine mandates, Abbott maintains that his executive orders have been sufficient.
Yet private and public employers have continued implementing vaccine mandates for their employees.
Several Missed Opportunities
In the 87th regular legislative session, which took place earlier this year, the Legislature chose to address the idea of vaccine passports by passing legislation prohibiting companies from discriminating against their customers based on vaccine status. Notably, the legislation stopped short of addressing such mandates for employees even though legislation was introduced for such purposes.
On August 25, Abbott issued an executive order relating to prohibiting vaccine mandates and vaccine passports subject to legislative action.
It was not until the third special legislative session began in late September that Abbott added the consideration of vaccine mandates specifically to the agenda. Even then, it was limited in its specificity.
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 a mandate.
On October 7, a mixture of Republican activists and Republican lawmakers held a press conference imploring Abbott to add consideration of a prohibition on employer vaccine mandates to the already ongoing third special legislative session agenda. Though legislation had been filed to address this issue and the issue was on the agenda, none of it was moving through the legislative process.
A few days later, Abbott added the consideration of a prohibition on employer vaccine mandates to the special session agenda while simultaneously issuing an executive order prohibiting them. Notably, this addition came with just eight days left in the special legislative session. The session concluded on October 19 without the Legislature having addressed the issue.
Almost immediately after, activists and Republican lawmakers held yet another press conference, imploring Abbott to call a fourth special legislative session to address the issue of vaccine mandates. The Republican Party of Texas followed suit just a few days later, penning an open letter to Abbott for the same reason. Since then, 30 Republican lawmakers have publicly voiced their support to return to address the issue.
Despite this, the federal government began implementing a series of vaccine mandates for companies that contract with the federal government and employers who employ more than 100 individuals. Though those mandates have been tied up in judicial consideration, many private companies went forward with implementing the mandates of their own accord, forcing Texans to choose between giving up their livelihoods or receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Abbott and Republican leadership in the state have maintained that his executive orders are enough to prohibit such mandates, while also indicating they are waiting on the judiciary to rule on the issue, essentially abdicating their own responsibility to create law.
Despite executive orders issued by Abbott and judicial processes, state agencies (including the Texas Military Department, which is overseen by Abbott himself) have continued the implementation of such vaccine mandates.
Abbott announced the creation of a hotline within the Texas Workforce Commission that Texans can contact to report employers that are implementing their own mandates.
Private companies continue to ignore Abbott’s executive orders despite Abbott claiming the contrary. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated it will take up and consider legal challenges to two of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates for large employers and healthcare facilities on January 7.