The state, as well as local governments, won’t be able to restrict personal freedoms in the name of COVID-19 any longer.
Senate Bill 29 by State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury)––approved by the Texas House Monday—prohibits state agencies and local governments from requiring individuals to wear a face mask, receive a vaccine, or keep their businesses closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or its variants.
The measure was named a priority for both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.
Democrat State Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood amended the measure to carve out an exception allowing assisted living facilities to mandate masks or vaccines.
State Rep. J.M. Lozano (R–Kingsville), the House sponsor for SB 29, accepted Zwiener’s exception and the amendment was adopted.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) also amended the measure to exempt public hospitals from the prohibitions, with the support of Lozano.
State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian) then attempted to protect healthcare workers from being forced to get a vaccine to which they have a medical or religious reason for denying, but the amendment was killed through a parliamentary procedure led by Zwiener.
Michelle Evans, Legislative Director for Texans for Vaccine Choice told Texas Scorecard, “SB 29 came to the House from the Senate as a clean and simple bill, outlining the priorities of both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to end governmental COVID-19 related mandates. Upon receiving the bill, the House moved quickly to not only weaken it in Committee but also accept further watering down by Democrat lawmakers during the floor debate. Notably, not a single Representative objected to the adoption of these amendments, which carved out numerous exceptions to bans on mandates.”
The measure ultimately received initial approval by the House in a vote of 86-53.
“While Texans for Vaccine Choice supports the original bill, the House version is overwhelmingly disappointing,” said Evans. “We hope that this bill is restored to its original and stronger intent during Conference Committee, and we call on our TFVC champions in both chambers to ensure that is the only acceptable outcome.”
Texas’ state senators will now have to reapprove SB 29 before it can be sent to the governor’s desk for final approval.
This should mean that Gov. Greg Abbott will now discontinue the use of his COVID-19 emergency executive orders. Texas is currently the only Republican-led state still under a state of emergency for COVID-19.
The 88th Legislative Session ends May 29.