On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was asked on the Chad Hasty Show about the prospects of calling a fourth special legislative session to specifically address a prohibition on employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Pressure is mounting on state Republican leadership to address the issue as the federal government continues to ramp up its own pressure on private employers, federal contractors, and healthcare workers. Currently, 26 state lawmakers have publicly voiced support for an additional special session. The Texas Republican Party has also called on Abbott to convene another special session to address this issue, among other legislative priorities left on the table from previous special sessions.
Abbott on Calling Yet Another Special Session
When asked, Abbott said:
Well … during the last special session, even the Senate couldn’t pass a ban on vaccine mandates. But … there is another reason why there is not a special session on it right now. And that is, if you haven’t announced the news, yesterday there was a second federal court order, a nationwide ban on vaccine mandates that were imposed by Medicaid and Medicare for any hospital or worker that is associated with Medicaid and Medicare—and that is on top of the ban from the 5th Circuit that oversees Texas put on OSHA.
In the third-called special legislative session, Abbott added the consideration of such a prohibition to the agenda 22 days into the 30-day special session, after getting pressure from grassroots activists and his own political party. Running parallel to this addition, he also issued an executive order prohibiting compulsory COVID-19 requirements on employees.
Though several pieces of legislation were already filed to that effect, two new pieces of legislation were introduced and granted public hearings in each legislative chamber, but neither made it through the entirety of the legislative process. As such, the special session concluded without the issue being addressed at all.
Notably, while the pieces of legislation were being heard in their respective committees, a prominent lobbying organization, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, publicly came out in opposition to the legislation, likely aiding in the halting of its continued consideration.
Since the conclusion of the special session, several companies announced they would still enforce a vaccination mandate, defying the order issued by Abbott. The Republican Party of Texas once again called on Abbott to call yet another special session to address the issue. Since then, the list of lawmakers supporting such a call has steadily increased to 26 total members from both legislative chambers. (The full list can be found at the end of this article.)
One House lawmaker, State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands), took to social media a few days after the conclusion of the latest special session to say that the vaccine mandate ban had “no support” from Abbott.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sued the Biden administration on October 29 over vaccine mandates. A few days later, the mandate, being implemented by rule via the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was officially introduced. The rule required all employers with 100 employees or more to mandate that their employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination by January 4, 2022, or submit to weekly testing.
Shortly thereafter, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals halted the implementation of the mandate with an emergency stay. On November 15, the same federal court ordered that OSHA shall not take steps to implement or enforce the mandate pending future court orders. Just two days later, OSHA announced it was halting the implementation of the mandates until further court direction.
Even with the stay, which many believe is temporary, the Texas Republican Party doubled down, calling on Abbott to convene another special session, saying, “Even before this radical federal rule went into effect, woke corporations in Texas have implemented the Biden administration’s unenforceable dictates by mandating vaccines for their employees in defiance of Gov. Abbott’s Executive Order. We need a #FourDay4th.”
Paxton also filed a motion requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction against the Biden administration vaccine mandate upon federal contractors (many of which operate out of the state of Texas), affecting a litany of employers, including taxpayer-funded and private higher education institutions and state and local governmental agencies.
On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s nationwide vaccine mandate for healthcare workers with a preliminary injunction.
It is assumed that most of these temporary injunctions are just the beginning of litigation on the various vaccine mandates coming down from the federal government and will almost certainly be appealed.
In the interview, Abbott continued:
Here is the point: All of the federal-based vaccine mandates have not been stayed or halted because of federal court rulings. If it turns out that we do continue to win those federal court rulings, which I think is going to be the case, then there is no need to pass legislation concerning vaccine mandates because there won’t be any vaccine mandates.
In response, Abbott was pressed by the host, Chad Hasty, “Despite what the court rulings are, wouldn’t businesses be allowed to tell their employees that they have to get vaccinated?”
Not under my executive order. My executive order, remember this, under Section 418 of the Texas Government Code, my executive order has the effect of law and it is something that Ken Paxton, the attorney general, has been suing and winning under. … We got a victory this last week from the [5th Circuit Court of Appeals] with regard to my elimination of the mask mandates in schools. So, we win these cases, and so, if we win in the Supreme Court on all of these federally imposed vaccine mandates, if any business goes against my executive order, then Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, can take legal action against them.
Seeking clarification, Hasty said:
Before the mandates kicked in on the federal level, there were still businesses … I mean, we had a business right here in Lubbock, Texas, that even after your executive order went in to ban vaccine mandates, there were businesses firing people left and right throughout the State of Texas. And when I had the attorney general on and there were also some other reports, the attorney general told me that it’s not up to him to sue, that it’s up to local district attorneys to sue businesses.
Abbott ended the interview by saying:
Well, I don’t know what the analysis was that led to that conclusion. What I do know is that if he has a problem with the executive order, we can always craft another executive order to fix it. But the fact of the matter is that my executive order prohibits businesses in the state of Texas from imposing a vaccine mandate, period.
Notably, other states have already convened their Legislatures to consider and pass varying legislation to address this issue. They include Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah.
What Does it All Mean?
Only the governor can call a special legislative session. Up until now, Abbott was seemingly reluctant to publicly comment on the issue, maintaining that his executive order was enough to prohibit such mandates, despite the fact that businesses across the state continue to ignore it.
By waiting for the judiciary to act, Texans all across the state still have to choose between their own livelihoods and receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Lawmakers Requesting an Additional Special Legislative Session
The list currently includes:
State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood)
State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney)
State Sen. Drew Springer (R–Muenster)
State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R–Waco)
State Rep. Keith Bell (R–Forney)
State Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R–Fredericksburg)
State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park)
State Rep. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford)
State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Waxahachie)
State Rep. Cole Hefner (R–Mt. Pleasant)
State Rep. Matt Krause (R–Haslet)
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Allen)
State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston)
State Rep. Candy Noble (R–Lucas)
State Rep. Tom Oliverson (R–Cypress)
State Rep. Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound)
State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler)
State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R–Plano)
State Rep. Bryan Slaton (R–Royse City)
State Rep. Shelby Slawson (R–Stephenville)
State Rep. David Spiller (R–Jacksboro)
State Rep. Valoree Swanson (R–Spring)
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington)
State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands)
State Rep. Cody Vasut (R–Angleton)
State Rep. James White (R–Hillister)