News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Abbott won’t call 4th special session to ban vaccine mandates, despite push over new federal rule

Texas Gov Greg Abbott removals his mask before speaking at a news conferenced about migrant children detentions Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Dallas.
LM Otero
Texas Gov Greg Abbott removals his mask before speaking at a news conferenced about migrant children detentions Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Dallas.

Gov. Greg Abbott will not call a fourth special legislative session to ban vaccine mandates and block a new federal vaccination rule for large businesses, despite pressure from the state GOP on Thursday.

The new emergency U.S. Department of Labor rule requires businesses with more than 100 employees to implement a vaccination plan to either mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or carry out a testing program to stem the spread of the disease. The Biden administration’s mandate — which he called for in September — would affect 84 million workers across the country.

Abbott, who is the only one who can call a special session, has so far called three. A spokeswoman for the governor confirmed there would not be a fourth, but said in an email the office was working with Attorney General Ken Paxton to pursue possible legal remedies.

"Governor Abbott continues hearing from countless Texans who are worried about losing their jobs because of this federal overreach,” Eze said. “The Biden Administration left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID vaccine because of their religious belief, medical condition, or personal conscience. And they left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees.”

Republican legislators in Texas have lashed out at the rule, and on Twitter, the Republican Party of Texas encouraged party faithful to contact their representatives.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the regulations preempt state and local laws banning vaccine, mask or testing mandates. Abbott has released a number executive orders barring such mandates, including an executive order in October banning vaccine mandates for employees and customers at any entity. Counties, cities and school districts have since filed lawsuits challenging the mask mandate ban.

The impacted businesses will have to fully comply by Jan. 4 under the emergency temporary standard released by OSHA Thursday. Companies are expected to provide employees with up to four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated, as well as sick leave to recover from any side effects after receiving both doses.

Those who refuse to get vaccinated will be required to undergo weekly testing for the virus, but employers aren’t responsible for providing or paying for the testing. People who work exclusively from home aren’t required to get vaccinated or tested.

Reaction to the OSHA announcement was mixed in Texas. Statewide chamber of commerce Texas Association of Business criticized the move, saying it would place a burden on Texas businesses trying to find workers.

“These decisions should be left up to businesses, subject to certain legal guardrails like religious and medical exemptions, not government,” TAB CEO Glenn Hamer wrote in a statement. “TAB appreciates the Texas Legislature for rejecting penalties related to vaccine mandates this past special session. The Biden Administration should do the same.”

Meanwhile, the Greater Houston Partnership — southeast Texas’ largest chamber of commerce — praised the move. Bob Harvey, the partnership’s president and CEO, said the organization appreciated OSHA’s flexibility and that it addressed concerns from business owners in Greater Houston.

Harvey added that he sympathized with companies worried about losing workers, but said they shouldn’t be too concerned.

“When the day finally comes, where it’s either be ‘vaccinated or be separated,’ the vast, vast majority — 99% plus — will be vaccinated,” Harvey said.

Paul Flahive is the technology and entrepreneurship reporter for Texas Public Radio. He has worked in public media across the country, from Iowa City and Chicago to Anchorage and San Antonio.