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Harris County attorney says Texas businesses should sue over Gov. Greg Abbott’s vaccine mandate ban

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, wearing a mask, sits in a wheelchair facing an older woman who has her sleeve rolled up and is getting a vaccine from a masked firefighter.
Pool, Tom Fox/AP
Pool, The Dallas Morning News
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (center) visits with Barbara Alexander of Bedford as she receives her COVID-19 shot from Arlington firefighter Andrew Harris at a mass vaccination site inside the Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center in Arlington, Texas, Monday, January 11, 2021. Alongside local and state officials, Abbott provided an update on COVID-19 vaccine efforts in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday issued executive order GA-40, prohibiting any entity in Texas — including private businesses — from requiring vaccinations from employees or customers.

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said Tuesday that Texas business owners should sue Gov. Greg Abbott over his executive order unilaterally banning public and private entities across the state from mandating vaccines.

In a statement, Menefee called the executive order “shameful,” and argued that it created confusion and opened up businesses to potential litigation that could slow economic recovery. Menefee is among the county attorneys across Texas who have sued the state over Abbott’s bans on mask and vaccine mandates.

“I encourage Texas business owners who believe in science and the rule of law to sue Governor Abbott and join Harris County and other cities and school districts fighting back against his overreach,” Menefee wrote. “We must keep pushing these cases forward so the Texas Supreme Court can rein in Governor Abbott's illegal executive orders.”

Under Abbott’s latest executive order, no entity in Texas — including private businesses — can require COVID-19 vaccinations from employees or customers. It comes on the heels of previous orders that have banned county, city and other local governments from enacting such mandates in public buildings.

Menefee has argued that Abbott’s directives are an abuse of the Texas Disaster Act, which gives the governor the power to bypass or suspend local laws to respond to a crisis. But the Harris County attorney said the governor was instead using the Disaster Act to hinder the response of local governments rather than help.

During a Tuesday morning press conference Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Abbott’s decision was politically motivated, and accused the governor of threatening public safety.

“It’s like as if the governor were telling me I can’t issue an order to evacuate the coastal areas when a hurricane is barreling toward us,” Hidalgo said. “This is a crisis. This is not an issue to play politics with.”

Abbott, who is vaccinated, has publicly backed the safety and efficacy of vaccines. But for months he has also blocked local officials from enacting COVID-19 restrictions meant to stop the spread of the virus. Last year, he issued executive orders making it illegal to put public mask mandates in place, and banned pandemic occupancy limits on bars, restaurants and other businesses.

Along with the executive order, Abbott added an agenda item to the state Legislature’s third special session that would codify the ban into law.

The Greater Houston Partnership, the region’s largest chamber of commerce, wrote in a statement Tuesday that the group supported the rights of businesses to require vaccinations among their employees.

“The governor's executive order does not support Texas businesses' ability and duty to create a safe workplace,” said GHP President and CEO Bob Harvey. “We encourage all employers to continue to promote the importance of vaccinations with their employees.”

Houston Public Media provided this story.