Republican Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, has issued an executive order banning any entity from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the state. Abbott has also sent a message to the Secretary of Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House, adding the vaccine mandate issue as an item of consideration at the Third Special Session agenda of the 87th Legislature.
The session is presently convened until Oct. 19. Lawmakers will have a chance to pass legislation that fulfills the purpose of the executive order. Upon the passage of such legislation, the executive order shall be rescinded.
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19. I hereby suspend all relevant statutes to the extent necessary to enforce this prohibition,” the executive order states.
If an entity fails to comply with the order, they would attract a “maximum fine” as allowed under Section 418.173 of the Texas Government Code and the State’s emergency management plan. The executive order will supersede “any conflicting order” that has been issued by local officials with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Governor Abbott said in a press release.
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Abbott’s executive order against COVID-19 vaccine mandates is in conflict with President Joe Biden’s mandate. This can create complications for businesses.
In an interview with The New York Times, Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, noted that companies that operate across several states will have to decide whether Abbott’s executive order applies to them if they have a business in Texas. He also feels that companies that already have vaccine mandates potentially face “severe financial risk.”
Brian Dean Abramson, a specialist and author on vaccine law, is not sure that Texas will seek to enforce the law against vaccine mandates by going after businesses that do not comply with them. Meanwhile, firms might choose to eventually comply with Biden’s order rather than Abbott’s.
“The employer will be in a position of having to thread the needle of establishing a vaccine policy that doesn’t run afoul of what Abbott requires and run afoul of what the Biden administration is requiring… But ultimately federal law will be supreme,” Abramson told Reuters.
Biden plans to enforce the mandate via the emergency workplace safety rules which is expected to soon be issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, if states can show that the federal government cannot prove there is a “grave danger” nationally, the rule could be blocked. This can allow Abbott’s executive order to have more weight in Texas than Biden’s mandate.
Meanwhile, some airline operators have already announced that they would follow Biden’s vaccine mandate rather than Abbot’s order against such vaccination requirements. “We are reviewing the executive order issued by Gov. Abbott, but we believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” a spokesperson from American Airlines said in a statement. Southwest Airlines also insisted that federal laws supersede any state law or mandates.