Though citizens across the nation may have already forgotten the subsided flu-like coronavirus, many government officials are still using it as an excuse to force new discriminatory rules on them. On Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced a formal legal opinion on one of those issues in the state.

In August 2021, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt submitted a request to Paxton for a legal opinion regarding a school district’s policy that would negatively affect employees who did not get the COVID vaccine.

In his legal response to State Sen. Paul Bettencourt on Thursday, Paxton wrote, “You tell us the governing body of the Houston Independent School District (‘HISD’) recently adopted a policy that would make available only to vaccinated employees, and those medically unable to be vaccinated, ‘additional, COVID-19-specific paid leave—above and beyond the regular sick leave included as an employee benefit.'”

Paxton went on to explain that HISD officials would give vaccinated employees up to 10 days of paid leave during the year, yet those who had not been injected with the vaccine “would be required to use their personal leave to isolate due to COVID-19.”

“A court would likely conclude that, by offering additional paid leave only to those employees showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a medical exemption, the Houston Independent School District’s COVID-19 paid leave policy violates Executive Order GA-39,” Paxton stated.

The AG also explained that given current federal and state laws, district officials likely cannot force employees to show a “vaccine passport” for “any purpose other than for health care.”

“HISD is not a covered entity under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; however, a person’s vaccination status likely falls within the definition of ‘protected health information’ under this federal statute,” Paxton wrote. “HISD is a covered entity under the Texas Medical Records and Privacy Act and must comply with its provisions. Any information related to the vaccination status of an employee would be covered as ‘protected health information’ under the TMRPA (as the statute adopts the federal definition) and treated accordingly.”

“Tiered benefits are clearly meant to cajole employees into healthcare decisions they would otherwise not make,” said Christine Welborn, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice. “No employer, public or private, should be manipulating the adoption of vaccinations by withholding benefits in violation of equal employment standards.”

Paxton’s opinion comes amid the Texas Legislature’s incomplete work on the issue. Last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature did pass a state law to ban “vaccine passports” (showing your vaccination status in order to enter a business); however, they declined to do anything to protect citizens from mask and vaccine mandates.

Citizens across the state continue to call on Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican lawmakers to act. Meanwhile, Paxton’s full opinion can be read here.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.