AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Texas lawmakers return for the third special legislative session Monday, they’re set to reconsider an effort to ban private employers from requiring their workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
During an announcement Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott included that as part of the four agenda items that he set to guide the legislators’ work once they return to the Capitol. In addition to prohibiting COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers, Abbott also directed them to take up legislation that would create an education savings account system and new criminal penalties related to border security.
He said in his news release that the state “must protect the freedom of Texans from forced COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Shortly after Abbott’s office released his agenda, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said he would introduce the legislation to accomplish this during the upcoming special session. In a statement shared on X, formerly Twitter, Leach told his followers, “Since the first day I was sworn in to office I have vowed to fiercely protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Texans – including the right to decide which vaccines, if any, are best for Texans and their families.”
“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate, and with Governor Abbott, to aggressively safeguard the medical freedom of all Texans by opposing vaccine mandates,” he added.
A spokesperson for Leach told KXAN Friday morning that he would not be available at this time to do an interview about this effort, adding that he’s still drafting the legislation. It’s unclear what language will be included in the bill. Republican lawmakers have long made it a priority to end these shot requirements.
Terri Burke, the executive director for the Texas-based vaccine policy organization The Immunization Partnership, said she questioned why Abbott and other Republicans are making this a priority now.
“I think it’s anti-business,” Burke said Friday. “It’s taking away the freedom and rights of employers to run their businesses, as they see fit so that they can be economically stable, successful, protect their employees, protect their customers. I don’t see where the government has a role in telling a business owner how to operate his or her business.”
Mike Golden, who works as the director of advocacy at the University of Texas School of Law, said he’s waiting to see how sweeping the legislation will be and whether it will contain any caveats for certain businesses, like hospitals.
“What will be interesting is when the language finally drops is to see: are there exceptions for hospitals?” Golden said. “Are there exceptions for large employers or small employers? Are there different kinds of gradations of rules?”
Texas lawmakers will have their shot to work out those details when the special session begins Monday at 1 p.m. The Texas Constitution stipulates a special session can only last 30 days.