Updated 12/8/21 to reflect the deadline for Texas Air National Guard members to receive the vaccine.
On Tuesday, the Texas Military Department conveyed to leadership within the Texas Army National Guard that their members would be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination by June of 2022 or face being discharged, according to sources in the department. Members who are not currently vaccinated will not receive drill pay until they become vaccinated starting this month.
The deadline for the Texas Air National Guard was December 2. It is currently unclear how many air guardsmen did not comply with the deadline and whether those who are also working in support of Operation Lone Star will be able to continue their service, potentially creating a security issue.
The Texas Military Department is an agency under the purview of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, but it can be subject to federal activation under Title 10.
In March, Abbott put some members of the Texas National Guard under state active duty orders as part of Operation Lone Star to aid local and state law enforcement in securing the Texas-Mexico border. Under these orders, there is no federal funding.
Vaccine Mandates & Mixed Messages From Republican Leadership
A source who has chosen to remain anonymous told Texas Scorecard, “In a briefing this morning, the Texas Military Department indicated that members of the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard will have to receive the COVID-19 vaccination by June of 2022 or face discharge and they will not receive their monthly drill pay starting this month until they do.”
In the most recent special legislative session, the prohibition of employer vaccine mandates was added to the agenda by Abbott for the legislature to consider, but not until the 22nd day. Ultimately, the special session concluded just a few days later and the issue was left unaddressed. In conjunction with the agenda addition, however, Abbott also issued his own executive order attempting to prohibit employer vaccine mandates.
Since then, the Republican Party of Texas, conservative activists, and a steadily growing number of Senate and House lawmakers have asked Abbott to convene yet another special legislative session to address the issue, as Texans all across the state are facing the decision of giving up their livelihoods or receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Several companies have announced they would still be enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, despite federal judiciary actions seeking to block it.
Abbott has generally been reluctant to comment on the issue, consistently indicating that his executive order is enough to prohibit it on its own.
In a radio interview last week, he indicated that he was relying on the judiciary to end vaccine mandates, while also maintaining that his executive order was enough.
On Tuesday, Abbott took to Twitter to laud the decision by a federal court in Georgia ordering an injunction against the federal-contractor mandate—the same day that the Texas Military Department, under his purview, issued guidance to mandate vaccinations to its members.
A federal court in Georgia has entered a nationwide injunction against the federal-contractor vaccine mandate.
Now ALL of the Biden Administration vaccine mandates have been halted.
Now, under my Order, vaccine mandates are not allowed in Texas.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 7, 2021
On December 2, almost the entire Texas House Republican Caucus signed onto an amicus brief in opposition to the vaccine mandate issued by the Biden administration for businesses that employ 100 or more individuals, something that House Speaker Dade Phelan indicated he was “proud to lead” as “Texas joins the fight against federal overreach.”
Notably, Phelan and the majority of those that signed onto the brief are not lawmakers who have publicly voiced support for another special session to address the issue via legislation.
Vaccine mandates are unAmerican and definitely unTexan. I’m proud @GovAbbott took swift action to ban them in TX and I’m also proud to work with Speaker @DadePhelan, @Burrows4TX and my colleagues to support the case against them in federal court. https://t.co/5cPnSO5GXJ
— Rep. Jared Patterson (@JaredLPatterson) December 7, 2021
Patterson, however, is not one of the 26 Republican lawmakers who have called for a fourth special legislative session for lawmakers to address the issue via legislation, as opposed to relying on widely ignored executive order and the judiciary.
Other States Wrestling With the Issue
Meanwhile, in early November, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that guardsmen in his state would not be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, openly defying a directive administered by the Pentagon in August making vaccination mandatory for all military members, including the National Guard, by deadlines that were determined by each individual service branch.
This has since caused a standoff between the Department of Defense and Stitt, who argues that even though National Guard members are deployed via federal orders, they reside under the jurisdictions of each state’s governor and are not subject to such mandates from the federal government.
On November 30, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a directive indicating that National Guard members who refuse a COVID-19 vaccination will have their pay withheld and be barred from additional training. One day earlier, Secretary Austin rejected a request by Stitt to seek exemption for the Oklahoma National Guard members from the vaccine requirement.
What Does It All Mean?
While the January 4 deadline for the employer vaccine mandate has currently been halted, employers across the state have continued complying with the mandate, in open defiance to Abbott’s order.
The Texas Military Department doing so is yet another wrinkle in the overall story, and it is unclear whether Abbott will act to protect military members under his control from the federal mandate.