AUSTIN (KXAN) — A key Texas Senate committee approved legislation Tuesday afternoon that would expand the ban on COVID-19 vaccine mandates to apply to all private employers and would not include an exemption for health care facilities. It now moves to the full chamber for consideration, advancing one of the governor’s handpicked priorities.
Members of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services are limited on what bills they can consider during the third special legislative session, which officially began Monday. Gov. Greg Abbott narrowed the scope of their work when he identified his four agenda items for this 30-day session. Those included banning private employers in Texas from requiring their workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, introduced Senate Bill 7 during Tuesday’s hearing and laid out what it would do. His legislation would bar employers from adopting or enforcing 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 bill would also prohibit employers from taking an “adverse action” against someone who does not want to get this shot. It would allow people to file a complaint at the Texas Workforce Commission to investigate alleged retaliation. Employers could face a fine up to $1,000 for each violation, according to this legislation.
“This is about personal medical decisions regarding COVID vaccines,” Middleton said Tuesday, “and those should be made by the individual without fear of retribution from their employer.”
The Republican members of the panel voiced their support for the legislation. Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, serves as chair of the committee, and she noted how Montana ran into legal obstacles implementing a similar law. In December 2022, a federal judge there permanently blocked its enforcement in health care settings from taking effect.
Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said he believed the Texas legislation should apply to more than just the COVID vaccine, but the committee did not consider any updates Tuesday to the bill’s language.
“I think this bill needs to be strengthened — it needs to address all vaccines from a standpoint of individual right, just the plain individual right,” Hall said. “Not a religious decision, not a medical decision — just a plain individual right.”
However, Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, criticized the proposal for having no exceptions for any industry, notably hospitals and health care clinics. Three witnesses representing the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Health Care Association later expressed similar concerns when they voiced their opposition to the way the bill’s currently written.
“Don’t you think we should allow businesses and providers that work with our most vulnerable population to create policies that protect those people?” Miles asked.
“This bill is about protecting individuals,” Middleton responded, “and this protects individuals from losing their job if they don’t believe that COVID vaccine is right for them for whatever reason.”
Eight other witnesses spoke to the committee in favor of the bill. Several of them shared their concerns over the alleged harm the vaccine could cause. They also worried hospital workers could lose their jobs for not taking the shot, which would make staffing situations worse across the state.
The Texas House of Representatives has yet to take up its version of this legislation. After gaveling in the chamber Monday, Speaker Dade Phelan said the state representatives will not reconvene until Thursday. Previously, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said he would introduce the proposal to accomplish Abbott’s goal of barring private employers from implementing COVID vaccine mandates for their workers. However, as of early Tuesday afternoon, no bill authored by him has been filed yet.