Senate Bill (SB) 968 from Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) would address many of the concerns raised during the COVID-19 pandemic and was widely supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.
Among its provisions, SB 968 places a ban on COVID-19 “vaccine passports” — both from governmental entities that could not issue any “standardized documentation to certify an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status” for any purpose beyond health care and from business that “may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer’s COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission status.”
Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order in April to strictly prohibit governmental entities in the state from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports, which extended to “any public or private entity that is receiving or will receive public funds through any means.”
The prohibition in SB 968 goes further in directly prohibiting all businesses in the state from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination for customers.
Businesses that do not comply with the prohibition are “not eligible to receive a grant or enter into a contract payable with state funds,” and state agencies “may require compliance [. . .] as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state.”
“I think [the bill] puts us at the forefront with other strong red states saying, ‘We’re going to prohibit vaccine passports,’” Kolkhorst told The Texan.
Kolkhorst said that some have questioned why the legislature could prohibit what a business does or does not require, but defended the policy, saying, “Individual rights always trump corporate and business rights.”
“I think that this is extremely important that we do not go down a road where we have some kind of digital tracking system that has our health information on it that allows or disallows you to go into certain venues,” said Kolkhorst.
Though vaccine passports are prohibited, SB 968 does not restrict businesses from implementing other “screening and infection control protocols,” nor does it “interfere with an individual’s right to access the individual’s personal health information under federal law.”
In addition to prohibiting vaccine passports, SB 968 also:
- Prohibits the Texas Medical Board from “issuing an order or adopting a regulation that limits or prohibits a nonelective medical procedure.”
- Requires personal protective equipment to be stockpiled in case of a public health disaster.
- Constrains local officials from limiting or prohibiting construction activities during a pandemic disaster.
- Requires the availability of “educational materials regarding immunizations” to schools, child-care facilities, community centers, local health providers, and veterans homes.
- Expands access to the state’s voluntary emergency assistance registry so that local first responders can conduct more wellness checks during a disaster.
- In tandem with SB 966, requires legislative approval of the renewal of a public health disaster by the state’s health commissioner through the use of a “legislative public health oversight board” that consists of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, and 12 other legislators.
- Creates the “Office of Chief State Epidemiologist.”
Kolkhorst said that she was “very optimistic” that Abbott would sign SB 968, especially on the heels of former president Donald Trump’s endorsement of his gubernatorial reelection bid.
Since the bill received over two-thirds support in both chambers, it will go into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.