The Texas Senate passed a broad ban early Friday morning on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for private-sector workers in Texas. Medical facilities would still be able to make other rules to help lower the risks for vulnerable patients. South Texas Republican Sen. Mayes Middleton introduced Senate Bill 7. This bill would make private companies pay fines and do other things if they fire or punish workers or contractors who refuse the shot.
While the bill doesn’t make any exceptions for doctors’ offices, clinics, or other health facilities, senators did agree that those places could require unvaccinated workers to wear face masks or take other “reasonable” steps to stop the spread. The bill passed with a 19–12 party-line vote just after midnight and is now on its way to the House, where earlier this year, similar efforts failed. It will now be sent to a House committee.
Before the vote, Republicans had tried for years to get rid of COVID-19 limits like mask laws and vaccine requirements. Supporters of the bill said it is important to protect people’s rights to choose their own health care without fear of losing their jobs. This week at a bill hearing, Middleton told the senators, “No one should have to make that awful choice between making a living for their family and their health or their individual vaccine preference.”
People who were against the ban said that the coronavirus is still dangerous to many people and that it can cause long-term COVID-19 even in people with mild symptoms. They also said that the ban makes it impossible for healthcare professionals to make vaccine policies that protect their patients from the risk of viral spread. Some foes also say that it takes away the freedom of business owners to choose their own policies.
There were complaints about the ban on health care facilities and doctors’ offices from two senators who have had kidney transplants. Their names are Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston. Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the Republican chair of the committee, was also skeptical. On Thursday, she backed letting healthcare facilities make other rules for workers who don’t want to get vaccinated.
Kolkhorst said during the floor debate, “I think we’ve been able to put the words in place that give us a good sound policy. Going forward, if a health care worker doesn’t want to be vaccinated, the hospital or health care facility can help mitigate that with masks, gloves, and other things, but it has to be reasonable.”
Medical and scientific experts say that the COVID-19 vaccine does not completely stop the disease from spreading, but it can stop it from spreading and make the symptoms and severity of the sickness much less severe. Bill purists were against letting healthcare workers get around Middleton’s proposed ban in any way, and they wanted it to be passed exactly as it was written.
And Middleton and Edgewood, R.S. Sen. Bob Hall, have both said they don’t trust the vaccine to be safe and work. Hall said earlier this week that he thinks the government used the pandemic and the vaccine response as a test to see how people will behave when they are told to mask up, lockdown, and get a vaccine, and then the government takes over their lives.
Early in 2022, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott put out an order that prohibited the mandates, but it wasn’t clear who it 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 normal session of this year. After that failed attempt, Abbott put the matter on the agenda for the third special parliamentary 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. This week, Kolkhorst said that the debate is about people not trusting 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 all private companies 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.
In both cases, the business or building would have had to have policies in place for unvaccinated workers to keep other workers from getting sick. That bill made it through the Senate, but it died in the House near the end of May without being heard by a committee. In 2021, a similar plan failed after business groups fought it.