Conservative lawmakers in Texas are trying again to stop private companies from making their workers get the COVID-19 vaccine. Republicans have been trying for years to get rid of COVID restrictions like mask laws and vaccine requirements. This new law is the result of their efforts.
Galveston Republican Sen. Mayes Middleton’s Senate Bill 7 would make it illegal for private businesses to require workers to get vaccinated. If employers fire or punish workers who refuse the shot, they could be fined by the state and face other punishments. Wednesday, February 2, is the second day of a special legislative session. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee quickly passed the bill Tuesday.
“We want to protect everyone’s rights and medical freedom in Texas,” Middleton told the committee. “No one should have to make that terrible choice between making money to support their family and their health or their own choice of vaccines.”
A split vote in the committee saw six Republicans vote for the bill and three Democrats vote against it. The bill could be debated on the Senate floor as early as Thursday. There could be proposed changes that would exempt healthcare facilities.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued an executive order in late 2021 that banned the mandates. However, it wasn’t clear who the order applied to or how it could be enforced. That order ran out in June, which led lawmakers to try to make it official during the regular session of this year. After that failed attempt, Abbott put the matter on the agenda for the third special legislative session of this year. Last month, a new state law went into effect that says the government can’t make people get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Because there aren’t any exceptions for doctors’ offices, clinics, or other health facilities right now, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, spoke out against it. The Republican chair of the committee, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, was also skeptical.
Miles and Hancock both said that people with weak immune systems, like them, should be able to get treatment in low-risk places. They asked Middleton to think about making exceptions for some of those places or situations. He said, “I want to make it clear that we can’t just talk about this in a political way.” “This problem needs to be surgically fixed, and we all need to be aware that when we give freedom to some people, we take it away from others.”
Miles, who takes eight antibiotics every day to keep from getting an infection that could damage the kidney he donated, said that taking away the ability of some healthcare workers to protect weak patients could make it harder for people to get care.
Miles said, “It means a lot to me and to the millions of kidney patients in this state.” “I know it means a lot to them, our older people. It would really mean a lot to them. For the love of God, Brother Middleton, this isn’t about Texas or the differences between Republicans and Democrats. It’s not about red or blue. It has to do with how safe health care is. I hope I can persuade you at some point.”
Some Republicans on the committee who were in favor of the bill asked those who were against it if they would agree to a bill that let businesses get around the ban as long as they couldn’t punish workers who say they can’t get the vaccine for medical, religious, or moral reasons.
Kolkhorst said the argument is about whether or not people trust science because there isn’t enough data on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, which she and some others think is important. During the regular session earlier this year, she and Middleton pushed for legislation that included exceptions for private employers that let workers choose not to work for medical or religious reasons. It would not have applied to healthcare facilities either, as long as they didn’t make their workers get a vaccine if their doctors said they weren’t healthy enough to do so.