Just when I thought horse trading was a dead profession in Texas, Representative Klick and Senator Kolkhorst prove me wrong. Well, to be fair, Kolkhorst is from a beautiful, rural part of our state, Brenham. The legislators did some good in getting SB968 across the finish line. It took at least five floor amendments to “get ‘er done,” but we’ll put it in their win category.
The section of the bill of most interest to many Texans is the status of a COVID-19 vaccine passport. Rumor has it that Texas will not allow one. Well, if only the law were clear.
Texas SB968 is headed to Governor Abbott’s office for signature, and if signed, will take effect immediately. There are several provisions, so first we’ll review the vaccine passport section and then we’ll look at the rest.
Texas Vaccine Passport law is going to be in Section 161.0085 (added to Section 14. Subchapter A, Chapter 161, Health and Safety Code).
Here are a few thoughts regarding the bill:
- This section of the SB968 only applies to COVID-19. So if there are other diseases, all bets are off, especially since our legislature only meets every two years.
- A government entity (not defined) cannot issue a vaccine passport to a third party for purposes other than healthcare. At a bare minimum, this bill will restrict the State from issuing passports for the benefit of a third party. Is a public school a government entity for purposes of this bill? That’s not clear. It’s likely (although not settled) that a municipality or county are, however.
- The bill prohibits a business from requiring a customer to provide vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 documentation to “gain access to, or to receive service from the business….” Business is not defined here. And I’m not sure what the penalty to a business is.
- This bill will NOT prohibit a private employer from requiring employees to be vaccinated. That bill was proposed by Senator Hall, but was left hanging out in a senate committee.
- The bill MIGHT prohibit a university from requiring a student to be vaccinated if the university is deemed a business. If a university is a business, the student is probably the customer, and therefore could not be required to be vaccinated. However, the Governor’s Executive Order (unless struck down) prohibits universities that get state money from requiring vaccine passports for this year.
It’s not unusual for statutes to be vague or broad by accident or by design. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one litigated right out of the box.
State Stockpiles of PPP. Essential Businesses. Medical Checks. And More.
SB968 has quite a lot of other provisions highlighted below.
SB968 amends the Texas Government Code as follows:
- Non-Elective Medical Procedures. “Texas Medical Board during a declared state of disaster may not issue an order or adopt a regulation that limits or prohibits a nonelective medical procedure.” However, the Board may impose a temporary limit or prohibit any other medical procedure to conserve resources for 15 or fewer days, subject to renewal. A person in good faith who acts or fails to act in accordance with the Board’s temporary rules is not subject to civil, criminal or administrative or disciplinary action.
- Personal Protective Equipment Contracts. A Division of the State will contract for stockpile of equipment if it deems current supply insufficient. It must maximize federal funds and use manufacturers in the U.S. when practicable.
- Construction and Essential Services. A political subdivision during a declared sate of disaster or local disaster cannot limit commercial, conventional or manufactured housing or related services like title, settlement or recording services. Nor can it limit essential manufacturing, maintenance and other services for essential products, services and supply chain.
- Disease Prevention Information System. State Health Department during declared disaster shall provide immunization educational materials to local health authorities for schools, child-care, community centers, health care providers and veterans homes. Materials must include CDC’s recommended age-specific immunization schedule, along with locations where immunizations are available.
- Medical Checks for Medically Fragile Individuals. The government will develop a process to designate and register medically fragile individuals who would be in need of emergency assistance. Minimum standards for required wellness checks within 24 hours of an emergency will be established. If a medically fragile individual does not respond to phone call, an in-person check will be done. Emergencies include extended utility outage or declared disaster. Medical conditions that may designate someone as fragile include Alzheimer’s, a person on dialysis or who needs oxygen treatment or requires 24/7 skilled nursing care, or has debilitating chronic illness.
SB968 also Amends the Health and Safety Code as well.
- PCR tests must include cycle threshold values and associated reference ranges.
- Tracking immunizations and antivirals. The state will maintain a registry of people receiving vaccinations or antivirals and track side-effects if taken to prepare for disasters.
- Establishes a Chief State Epidemiologist position.
- Establishes a study to review the State’s response to COVID-19, and report to governor and legislature with recommendations for legislative improvements and emergency preparedness and response.
Read the fine print. “If the legislature does not appropriate money . . . the department and council may, but are not required to, implement this Act using other appropriations available for that purpose.”
You can view full text of bill here: SB968
So, what do we have here in Texas? It’s not entirely clear. The Texas House and Senate did manage to pass legislation, but the bill’s ink is dripping with political deals, leaving us with more questions than answers. Who’s betting on a few trips to the courthouse? In the meantime, I think I’ll take another gander at the beautiful horse in the photo above!