88th LegislatureHealthcareIssuesStatewide NewsEmergency Powers Reform, Vaccine Mandate Bans Considered in Texas Legislature

Several bills reining in the emergency powers used in the state’s response to COVID-19 are progressing through the legislative process.
March 23, 2023
Pushback to the Texas governments’ response to COVID-19 has materialized this session in numerous bills curtailing those emergency powers used by local and state officials, and now multiple pieces of legislation are on the move and gaining traction in both chambers of the Texas Legislature.

Senate Bill (SB) 29 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), which is priority legislation for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is one of the most visible bills this session on the issue.

The bill prohibits any local or state official from closing private businesses or mandating masks or vaccines, but all specifically as it relates to COVID-19. It does not limit the government’s powers in these areas responding to non-COVID-related issues.

SB 29 was given approval by the Senate Committee on State Affairs this week and now heads to the Senate floor.

Birdwell has two other emergency powers reform-related bills, in particular SB 1104, which has also been approved in committee and carries fourteen bipartisan coauthors, signaling strong support in the upper chamber.

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SB 1104 is one of the broadest reforms to emergency powers this session, reserving the power to restrict businesses during a state of disaster to just the Legislature and only then with the consent of a local county judge.

In addition, the bill limits the governor’s power to suspend state law during the first 30 days of a disaster and limits that suspension power to three specific codes: the penal code, the code of criminal procedure, and the election code. However, election code provisions regarding voter qualification may not be suspended.

The governor’s power under existing laws to suspend statutes is presently facing a judicial challenge before the Texas Supreme Court over its constitutionality, with several local governments contending Abbott exceeded his authority during the response to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, legislation in the Texas House of Representatives is moving forward focusing on the COVID-19 vaccine itself.

House Bill (HB) 1313 by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock),  highly anticipated by vaccine choice advocates, simply instructs state health agencies to “assess the full and complete adverse reactions, including death, and effectiveness of each type of vaccine used in Texas to defend the human body against COVID 19.”

“Texas citizens have a right to valid data and statistics on the unintended effects and true efficacy of these vaccines so that they may have true informed consent,” Texans for Medical Freedom founder Jackie Schlegel told The Texan, adding that she was very supportive of Burrow’s legislation, which was recently heard in committee.

“I am very thankful to chairman Burrows for leading on the issue of covid vaccine transparency and accountability,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel also pointed to two other bills, HB 44 by Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) and HB 81 by Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian), which she says carry the support of her organization. Both are currently pending approval in committee.

Swanson’s legislation prohibits discrimination against a Medicaid recipient or child health plan program enrollee based on their immunization status, while Harrison’s bill prohibits anyone from being compelled to take a COVID-19-related vaccine.

Legislation pushing back on governmental mandates relating to COVID-19 gained a large backer this session in Gov. Greg Abbott, who touched on the issue in his State of the State address, saying legislative action to accomplish his priorities willhelp Texas close the door on COVID restrictions.”


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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.