AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers at the governor’s mansion on Friday afternoon.
Senate Bill 7 will prohibit employers in the private sector from taking “adverse action” against an employee who does not want to get a COVID-19 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 $50,000 for each violation, according to this legislation.
Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, who authored SB 7, emphasized the importance of medical autonomy when discussing his bill during the third special session.
“This bill is about protecting individuals,” said Middleton during the third special session. “This protects individuals from losing their job if they don’t believe that COVID vaccine is right for them for whatever reason.”
During an early October hearing on this bill, there were more witnesses who testified in favor of the bill rather than against it. However, Jimmy Widmer — who testified against the bill on behalf of the Texas Medical Association and other medial groups — asked lawmakers to allow medical groups to be allowed to set vaccination standards, but with broader exemptions for those certain employees who have concerns about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“COVID-19 still disproportionately affects patients who are immunocompromised, elderly, or suffer from complex chronic medical conditions, regardless of their vaccination status,” he said. “Doctors’ offices in Texas should have the freedom to set their own vaccination policies and alignment with the best interests of the patients we serve.”
The final version of the bill did end up including exemptions for heath care providers. For employers falling under that criterion, they may establish “reasonable policy” for employees who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 “based on the level of risk the individual presents to patients.”
SB 7 was one of two proposed items that successfully passed in the legislature in the third special session. Abbott will be signing the bill with SB 7 sponsors Middleton and Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, at 1 p.m.