The Texas House has approved legislation to ban employers from requiring COVID vaccines.
Senate Bill 7 by State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would prohibit employers from “adopt[ing] or enforc[ing] a mandate requiring an employee, contractor, applicant for employment, or applicant for a contract position to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment or a contract position.”
The measure was placed on the agenda of the third special session by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month. The Senate approved the measure within days.
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Plano) sponsored the bill in the House.
“This bill is not about what vaccines you should or should not take. It’s about who can make that decision,” said Leach, when laying out the bill. “The bill is about protecting Texans’ right to work and their ability to decide whether to get a COVID vaccine.”
Under the House’s version, employers could be subject to a $10,000 fine by the Texas Workforce Commission if the measure is violated.
An amendment by State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian) to broaden the bill to include any person, rather than just employers, was struck down by Speaker Dade Phelan on a point of order on the grounds that it was not germane to the governor’s call—which solely mentioned employers
Another amendment by Harrison to explicitly expand the protection to medical school students in light of Baylor College of Medicine’s mandate was also struck down by Phelan on the same grounds.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) then successfully added an amendment that expanded the definition of “contractor” to include anyone “who undertakes specific work for an employer in exchange for a benefit without submitting to the control of the employer over the manner, methods, or details of the work.” Cain said this provision could work as a creative means to protect medical school students within the governor’s call.
One of the biggest moments in the debate, however, happened when State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands) brought forth an amendment to increase the fine to $50,000. Leach called the amendment “reckless and silly” and stated that Sen. Middleton and the Senate would oppose raising the fine, putting the legislation in jeopardy.
Harrison, however, said he had spoken with Middleton about the exact amendment and that he had expressed support for it.
The House then adopted the amendment 87-57.
As of publishing, Middleton did not return a request for comment on his position on the amendment.
State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) also attempted to amend the legislation, to require employers to rehire or compensate employees that are fired because of their refusal to get the vaccine. That amendment was killed by Phelan on a point of order.
House lawmakers approved the legislation in a vote of 90-57.
“After three years of ongoing COVID-related overreach, the House finally passed a bill to end private employer COVID vaccine mandates in Texas,” Michelle Evans, the political director of Texans for Vaccine Choice told Texas Scorecard. “Immense credit is owed to Representatives Briscoe Cain and Steve Toth for broadening and strengthening the legislation so that it has a more meaningful impact across the state.
The bill must now receive another vote before being sent back to the Senate. They can approve the changes made in the House or send it to a conference committee to hammer out a compromise.