Texas State Rep. Brian Harrison of Midlothian is blaming Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan of Beaumont for the legislature’s failure to pass a measure banning all COVID-19 vaccine mandates this session.

In an interview published Sunday, Harrison told the Daily Caller that Phelan and Texas House parliamentarian Hugh Brady were responsible for watering down two measures that supposedly banned the mandates.

The pieces of legislation under scrutiny are Senate Bill 29, effective September 1 of last year, and Senate Bill 7, which was passed in November and goes into effect today.

Although SB 29 was framed as a measure disallowing the Texas state government from making COVID-19 vaccines and masking compulsory, the actual text contains special provisions excluding a significant number of state-controlled entities from the new rules.

State-supported living centers, Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Juvenile Justice Department facilities, jails, state-owned hospitals, health care facilities, and university-affiliated hospitals and clinics are expressly excluded from the restrictions.

SB 7, marketed as a measure aimed at ending private employers’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccines and masking, similarly contains exceptions allowing some companies to do just that.

One subsection that the new law places into Texas’ Health and Safety Code notes that any private health care facility, provider, or physician can still mandate protective medical equipment for an employee or contractor who is not vaccinated.

Harrison argued that Phelan and Brady, a former White House legal counsel during the Obama administration, have had multiple opportunities to fix the loopholes since SB 29’s and SB 7’s passages.

However, he says the pair instead turned a blind eye to the problems, even allowing his proposed amendment to SB 7 to die, which would have explicitly prevented COVID-19 vaccine mandates from applying to students learning in university-affiliated hospitals and clinics.

“We were prevented from putting that amendment on because of Speaker Phelan and the Barack Obama lawyer who controls the State House,” Harrison informed the Caller. “There is no state prohibition on the requiring of COVID vaccinations for private universities, medical schools, or nursing schools in Texas.”

Harrison also lamented the House Calendars Committee’s decision to shoot down the Texas COVID Vaccine Freedom Act, which explicitly banned all COVID-19 vaccine and masking mandates in the state, before it reached the floor.

Phelan and Brady “intentionally killed that measure with knowledge, foresight and malice,” Harrison contended. 

“If they had let that bill get on the floor during the regular session in early 2023, it would have passed, and there would have been zero, ZERO, COVID vaccine mandates in Texas,” he added.

Michelle Evans, political director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, told Texas Scorecard that SB 29 was originally forwarded as a clean measure before the House but “adopted numerous amendments which violate the medical liberty of hundreds of thousands of Texans.”

Evans praised the passage of SB 7 but acknowledged some problems with it, notably that it “only applies to those working for private employers” and does not “apply to Texans seeking life-saving medical care, such as for transplants.”

Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, a Houston-area otolaryngologist, has also been vocal on her X account about problems with SB 29 and SB 7’s inability to protect many residents from vaccine mandates.

Bowden is currently in a prolonged legal battle with Houston Methodist Hospital over her methods used at the facility to treat over 6,000 patients with COVID-19, with her record recording zero deaths, as Texas Scorecard previously reported.

State Sen. Bob Hall told the Daily Caller that the legislature is currently waiting on a decision from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Workforce Commission on whether SB 29 and SB 7 really do contain the feared loopholes.

In the meantime, the lingering questions surrounding the extent of the COVID-19 vaccine ban are a focal point of the March 5 Republican primary elections.

Luca Cacciatore

Luca H. Cacciatore is a journalist for Texas Scorecard. He is an American Moment inaugural fellow and former welder.

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