Thursday, Oct. 6, marks Day 18 of the ongoing third special legislative session, which can last for a total of 30 days.
One of the items enumerated on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda is that of charging the legislature with addressing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The specific charge reads:
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.
Several pieces of legislation have been filed to address vaccine mandates, but none have moved through the legislative process in either chamber.
In the Senate, State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) filed three different pieces of legislation to address the issue. Senate Bill 11 prohibits employers from using an individual’s vaccination status as a factor in their hiring processes. It also prohibits governmental entities from requiring vaccines to use governmental services. Senate Bill 13 similarly prohibits a governmental vaccine requirement but leaves an exception for state employees. Senate Bill 14 explicitly prohibits vaccine mandates altogether by state-level government. All of Hall’s bills were filed on September 8 but have yet to be referred to a Senate committee for their consideration.
State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney) filed Senate Bill 35, which allows for individuals to claim an exemption from a vaccination requirement based on medical condition or reasons of conscience, including religious belief. The legislation was filed on September 20 and has yet to be referred to a Senate committee for their consideration.
Notably, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick left the matter of COVID-19 vaccine mandates off of his list of legislative priorities, even though it is included on Abbott’s agenda.
Texas House of Representatives
The Texas House of Representatives has likewise not moved any legislation through its chamber that addresses vaccine mandates.
Republican State Rep. Steve Toth (The Woodlands) filed two pieces of legislation to address the issue. House Bill 14 requires that any contracts that are enacted between the state and private companies also include a provision that would prohibit a company from requiring employees to be vaccinated. House Bill 18 prohibits employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated but uses the justification of bodily autonomy as the reason for the prohibition.
Republican State Rep. Bryan Slaton (Royse City) filed House Bill 33, which would explicitly prohibit companies and hospitals from requiring employees to be vaccinated. It goes further, creating a Class B misdemeanor for facilities that violate that provision while also rescinding their license for five years.
State Rep. Candy Noble (R–Lucas) filed House Bill 37, a companion to Paxton’s bill, allowing for vaccine mandates but also allowing for exemptions for reasons of conscience. Republican State Rep. Briscoe Cain (Deer Park) filed House Bill 109, which is similar.
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) filed House Bill 86, which addresses vaccine mandates in schools. The legislation sets parameters to prohibit such mandates and includes provisions that would make a public or private school subject to a civil penalty of a maximum of $5,000 for schools that violate the prohibition. It also enables them to lose their eligibility for state government grants and prohibits them from entering into contracts with the state government if they violate the prohibition.
None of these bills have been referred to a House committee for their consideration.
What is Next?
The ongoing special legislative session will reach its forced conclusion on October 19. It is possible these bills will be considered by then, but each chamber has prioritized other bills on Abbott’s agenda, including the proposed boundaries for U.S. Congress, the state Senate, the state House, and State Board of Education as a part of the redistricting process.
It is unclear whether legislation addressing vaccine mandates will be considered at all.