Legislation intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees has stalled out in the Senate with less than two days left in the third special legislative session this year.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposes the bill, which makes entities requiring the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger said the legislation — added to the session agenda as a late priority by Gov. Greg Abbott — does not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.
“At the moment it’s not too well developed,” Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler, calling it “anti-business.”
“I’ve got some real reservations because I think it’s another example of big government,” Seliger said. “And we don’t do that.”
SB 51 has been on the Senate’s calendar since Thursday, but the chamber has not taken action, even as it passed other priority legislation.
The special session is scheduled to end Tuesday, and the vaccine legislation is one of only a few outstanding Abbott priorities that appears unlikely to get through the finish line.
“It’s dead,” state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said of SB 51.
More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51, pushing back against the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes filed the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to take up this issue to ensure Texans aren’t required to get vaccinated, saying that vaccines are “safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced.”
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 if lawmakers don’t act. His order came four weeks after Democratic President Joe Biden announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination against the virus or require regular testing.
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 of the legislation’s risks to small businesses, workplaces that rely 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 tremendous amount of communications from the business community saying this is their job,” Seliger said. “They set the rules and working conditions in their places of business.”
See here and here for some background. From the jump there were stories of strong opposition from business groups, who are normally very friendly to Republicans, to this bill. Given that the session ends today, I’d say the odds that this bill dies with it are pretty good. But I don’t want to get too overconfident, because it is entirely possible that enough objectionable pieces of that bill could get filed off, and it would be at the top of the agenda for a fourth session, whether or not one is needed. So count this as a provisional win, and hope for the best from here.