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Bills designed to block every Texas entity, including hospitals and private companies, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees failed to pass the Texas legislature before lawmakers entered the third special legislative session early Tuesday morning. postpone.
Signs that the legislation was in trouble came early as business groups spoke out against the proposals. Although the issue was added as a late priority to the session’s agenda by Governor Greg Abbott, the House version of the bill failed to gain enough support to be voted out of committee. The Senate proposal, pushed by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was quickly pushed from the committee, but failed to get the votes for approval by the entire chamber.
On Monday, hours before lawmakers ended the session, state senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposed the bill, which leaves entities needing the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger was the first lawmaker to publicly acknowledge that the bill did not have the votes to pass in the Senate.
“Right now, it’s not too well-developed,” Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, which he called “anti-business.”
“I really have my reservations because I think it’s another example of great government,” Seliger said. “And we don’t.”
SB 51 had been on the Senate agenda since Thursday, but the chamber had taken no action, even though it passed other priority legislation.
The offices of Hughes and Lt. gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate, did not respond to requests for comment.
Patrick, a Republican, is also the de facto leader of the GOP majority in the upper room. During his two-term tenure, he has exercised power by rewarding senators who support his priorities and punishing those who do not by stripping them of their positions of power. This session, he was able to push all of his five priorities across the room.
More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51 and opposed the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes introduced the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to address the issue to ensure Texans are not required to be vaccinated, saying that vaccines are “safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus. but should remain voluntary and never coerced”. .”
Abbott called for the legislation as he took executive action to ban private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which will be in effect statewide, even though lawmakers have done nothing. His order came four weeks after President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that companies with more than 100 employees must require vaccination against the virus or be tested regularly.
The organizations opposing the bill, including several chambers of commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association and the Texas Trucking Association, have warned lawmakers about the risks of the laws for small businesses, workplaces dependent on federal funding, and immunocompromised Texans.
The warnings were notable in a state where business interests work closely with pro-business Republicans to influence legislation.
“We’re getting a lot of messages from industry that this is their job,” Seliger said. “They determine the rules and working conditions in their establishments.”
Abbott has been in several legal battles with cities, counties and school districts over local mask orders defying his ban on such orders. The ban on masks in Texas schools has sparked a federal investigation for alleged violations of the rights of students with disabilities.
Proponents of medical facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes say they are concerned about the loss of Medicare and Medicaid funds if the state law goes into effect, preventing them from following pending federal regulations mandating vaccines.
“The state should not mandate a unified approach to hospitals,” Steve Wohleb, senior vice president and general counsel for the Texas Hospital Association, told a Senate panel on Thursday. “It should leave those decisions to the hospitals, who are in the best position to know what’s best for their patients.”
While a ban on vaccine requirements was a top issue for Abbott, the topic never made it to the top of Patrick’s list.
At the start of this special 30-day session, Patrick announced that his top priority was to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to help Texas homeowners reduce their property taxes for the year.
Patrick’s other priorities included repaying money paid out of the state’s unemployment fund during the pandemic, preventing transgender student athletes from playing on sports teams based on the gender they identify with rather than the gender on their original birth certificate, drawing new political maps and legislation to protect dogs from being tethered during extreme weather.
Patrick also managed to get Abbott to add tuition bonds, which had been approved by the legislature, to the special session.
House Bill 155, a ban on vaccine mandates by State Representative Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, also stalled in the House.
Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and the Texas Hospital Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, unbiased news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune‘s journalism. A full list of these can be found here.