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UT law professor weighs in on Gov. Abbott's executive order that bans vaccine mandates

Potential legal challenges are on the horizon as some companies such as Texas-based Southwest Airlines have come out declaring they reject Abbott's order.

SAN ANTONIO — Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest executive order bans any entity including private employers from requiring proof of coronavirus vaccinations from those who object.

“The order doesn’t specifically outlaw requiring vaccinations, what it says is that you can’t require someone to be vaccinated who objects,” said UT law professor Randy Erben.

Abbott’s executive order comes in response to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers and employers with more than 100 employees.

“Governor Abbott has talked to countless Texans who are worried about losing their jobs because of this federal overreach,” said Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze. “The Biden Administration has 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 have left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees. The Governor’s executive order will help protect Texans from having to make that choice.”

The executive order lists objections for any reason of personal conscience based on a religious belief or medical concern.

Erben noted there are two different issues: one being the validity of the executive order and whether it’s enforceable.

“We have two Texas-based airlines - American and Southwest - who’ve already required vaccinations of their employees and there may be some litigation involving them or a similarly situated business,” Erben said.

Erben noted Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers would most likely stay in place under Abbott’s latest executive order.

 There’s potential for the order to be upheld in court if legal battles involved employers that receive state funds.

Meanwhile, Baptist Health System is already mandating staff to get vaccinated while recognizing religious or medical exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.  

A hospital spokesman emailed KENS 5 this statement: “Baptist Health System is awaiting clarification from the federal government and will adhere to state and federal requirements in regards to plans for implementing our employee vaccine policy. As with all protocols and decision making, Baptist Health System considers the safety of its patients, employees and community as its highest priority.”

Erben said the executive order may bring about legal challenges surrounding the continuing debate around vaccine mandates and employers.

 “You have all these different layers. You have the federal order, you have local orders, you have private entities who’ve already required vaccinations of all employees, so I think that there’s just going to be a bunch of considerations for each court.”

The Texas legislature is expected to take up the issue prompted by the executive order during its third special session.