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Texas lawmakers are considering legislation that would give workers legal grounds to deny COVID-19 vaccine mandates for “reasons of conscience” – and to sue their employers if they disagree. The measure would codify Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on vaccines into state law.
“The bill would allow employees to opt out of their employers’ vaccine requirements for medical reasons or for reasons of personal conscience,” reports Andrew Schneider of Houston Public Media for the NPR Newscast.
“Opponents of the bill, including some business groups, fear it will spark a torrent of lawsuits against private employers.”
The measure would also apply to workers who have “acquired immunity against COVID-19” because they have already been infected and have recovered from the disease. It does not detail how these workers could prove their immune status.
Bill would lead the way to fight layoffs in court
As it currently stands, the bill would allow dismissed or otherwise sidelined workers to bring complaints against their employers “as if the establishment were engaging in a discriminatory or illegal employment practice.”
These workers could ask a court to prevent their dismissal or to award compensatory or punitive damages.
The bill, HB 155, has 24 sponsors, all Republicans. He is currently on the House State Affairs Committee, which held more than four hours of testimony on the matter on Wednesday.
State Representative Tom Oliverson, the bill’s lead author, is a practicing anesthesiologist who has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I was one of the first to line up when it became available at my health facility,” he told the House committee.
But Oliverson also said he doesn’t think public health mandates are very effective. He also said that HB 155 is consistent with the concept of patient autonomy – which he says is the basis of medical ethics in the United States.
“It is the idea that a patient of sound mind and body has the right to accept or refuse medical advice and treatment” regardless of what medical expertise has to say on the matter, a said Oliverson.
Governor’s ban faces challenges on multiple fronts
Oliverson discussed the bill just 48 hours after Abbott called on lawmakers to pass a version of his recent ordinance banning any entity, including private companies, from applying a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Texas.
Abbott’s state order positions the governor as a highly visible challenger to President Biden’s federal mandate that requires any business with 100 or more employees to impose either a mandatory vaccine or weekly coronavirus testing. Competing positions also forced companies to choose which order they would follow – and several large Texas employers sided with the federal order.
Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and IBM and other companies have said they will abide by Biden’s order, saying Biden’s federal authority trumps Abbott’s powers.
Abbott’s order faces other hurdles as well. As Houston public media reports, Texas could be heading into a legal battle with the federal government over the ban. And with a third special session of the legislature set to expire next week, lawmakers may not have enough time to enshrine a ban on vaccination warrants into state law.
By taking a hard line against Biden, Abbott appears to be responding to political pressure within his own party, analysts told HPM. The governor faces weak support in early polls ahead of the Republican primary next spring.