AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — 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 Texas-based American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have said they would abide by the federal mandate.
Abbott wrote in his order:
“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, 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.”
Texas has seen a recent decrease in newly reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. But a rising death toll from the recent surge caused by the delta variant has the state rapidly approaching 67,000 total fatalities since the pandemic began in 2020.
The governor added the issue to the agenda for lawmakers to address during the ongoing special session Abbott called for redrawing voting maps and new restrictions on transgender student athletes.
Montana has passed a law preventing employers from mandating workers get vaccines, and a number of states have explicitly said schools cannot require vaccinations.
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.
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 recently tested positive for COVID-19.
He was briefly hospitalized, but also tweeted he remains opposed to vaccine mandates. West announced Monday on his social media accounts that he had returned home.