Gov. Abbott bans COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any 'entity in Texas'

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Monday to prohibit any entity, including private business, from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on workers and called on state lawmakers to pass a similar ban into law.

The move comes as the Biden administration is set to issue rules requiring employers with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated or test weekly for the coronavirus. Several major companies, including North Texas-based American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have said they would abide by the federal mandate.

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"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," Abbott wrote in his order.

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Abbott, who was previously vaccinated and also later tested positive for COVID-19, noted in his order that "vaccines are strongly encouraged for those eligible to receive one, but must always be voluntary for Texans."

Gov. Greg Abbott signs Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 at the Texas Capitol. The omnibus bills will change the state’s power grid and the people who oversee it. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

Abbott previously barred vaccine mandates by state and local government agencies, but until now had let private companies make their own rules for their workers. It was not immediately clear if Abbott's latest executive order would face a quick court challenge.

"It is remarkable to see a Republican governor encroach on the rights of private employers to this degree," said SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson. "Because normally Republicans are pretty friendly to the ability of private employers to set whatever conditions of employment they want."

Abbott is also taking things a step further by adding the item to the special session agenda in hopes the state legislature makes the ban law. 

The order impacts the Dallas Mavericks who recently began requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for all fans at home games. 

Mavs owner Mark Cuban said in a statement, "We don't have a home game for two weeks. A lot can change between now and then." 

"I'm sure that some employers will file suit, and they'll claim that it is within their constitutional rights to set conditions of employment like this," Wilson said. "Because this is not based on a federally protected category."

Mike Davis is an SMU economist. 

"The airlines in particular, if a bunch of people have to call in sick, they can’t fly their schedule," he said.

Davis says this will impact the business decision recently made by American and Southwest Airlines. 

"A lot of these mandatory vaccine decisions were a business judgment because we have to have our workforce protected," he said. "We can’t have people out on sick leave. We can’t have some employees bringing an infection onto the property."

Wilson says this announcement from the governor could also hint at a continued exploration of Abbott running for president in 2024. 

"There's a lot of kind of political calculation, legal calculation going on behind the scenes," Wilson said. "But the governor can achieve his objective politically with the Republican base, no matter what happens to this order on appeal to the courts."

Abbott's new order also carries political implications. The two-term Republican is facing pressure from two candidates in next year's GOP primary, former state Sen. Don Huffines and former Florida Congressman and Texas state party chairman Allen West, have attacked Abbott’s COVID-19 policies and have strongly opposed vaccine mandates.

"He knows which the way the wind is blowing. He knows conservative Republican voters are tired of the vaccine mandates and tired of him being a failed leader," Huffines tweeted.

West announced this week he tested positive for COVID-19 and has been hospitalized, but also tweeted he remains opposed to vaccine mandates.

MORE: Allen West, Texas GOP gubernatorial hopeful, says he has COVID-19

Texas has seen a recent decrease in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. But a rising death toll from the recent surge caused by the delta var