AUSTIN, Texas - The big fight of the special session remains the debate over school choice right now.
However, another big choice debate at the State Capitol is the issue of banning COVID vaccine mandates.
Senate Bill 7 would prevent a private business owner from requiring employees to get a COVID vaccine. The legislation had a hearing this past Monday, which at times was pretty intense. It was voted out of committee Thursday and could be on the House floor for debate later this week.
JEFF LEACH: Senate Bill 7, this bill is not about what vaccines are good or bad. This bill is about who should decide at the very core, the basic level, who should make that decision. And I believe that's a decision that is uniquely personal. And we're protecting the employee's rights in Texas to make that decision.
RUDY KOSKI: Do you agree that this seems like a free market versus personal rights debate?
JEFF LEACH: Well, look, no Texan should be fired for whatever reason, whether it's religious or conscience or medical, for not getting a vaccine. And right now, we have employers in the state of Texas that are firing, or as a condition for continuing employment telling their employees you have to get a vaccine.
RUDY KOSKI: There are people who have medical conditions and say that this will put them at risk. What do you say to them?
JEFF LEACH: For any vulnerable populations, look, there are things that can be done in addition to or instead of getting a vaccine, personal protective equipment. We learned all about that during the COVID pandemic. And we still are learning a lot about that. We're still learning a lot about the vaccine. And so I trust employers to make reasonable accommodations for those people.
RUDY KOSKI: When you say reasonable accommodations, what are you talking about?
JEFF LEACH: Look, if so, if an employer wants employees to get a vaccine, you know, all employers want a safe workplace. But if you've got a certain employee or segment of employees that, let's say for reasons of conscience or for medical reason or religion, decide I don't want to be forced to get this vaccine and that employer can work with that employee, with those employees to make reasonable accommodations to either work from home, to work in another area of the office. As long as there's not an adverse employment action, as long as they're not retaliating or firing that employee, then those employers will still be protected.
MORE TEXAS: THE ISSUE IS
- Texas: The Issue Is - State Rep. Eddie Morales says Biden administration isn't doing enough at southern border
- Texas: The Issue Is - Katy ISD enacts new gender identity policy
- Texas: The Issue Is - DPS Lt. Olivarez speaks on state of the U.S.-Mexico border
RUDY KOSKI: Is the exception just for health care companies?
JEFF LEACH: Well, what the health care companies have that specific exception. But the bill still protects the rights of employers to make reasonable accommodations in their workplaces.
RUDY KOSKI: Complaints would go to the Workforce Commission. How do you envision those being worked out?
JEFF LEACH: Well, if an employee is forced against his or her will to take a vaccine as a condition for continuing employment, they can file a complaint. They should file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. The Workforce Commission is uniquely equipped to investigate those complaints. That's what they do. They do it all the time to investigate those complaints. And if the employer has violated this bill when it becomes Texas law, then that employer will be forced to make changes or will face a $10,000 fine from the state.
RUDY KOSKI: I was here during the tort reform debates when Republicans were saying don't tell businesses what to do. Now it seems like you're telling businesses what to do.
JEFF LEACH: The main role of government. I'm a fierce tort reform advocate. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more passionate tort reform advocate in this building than me as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. But our fundamental role as elected officials is to protect the rights and liberties of the people. That is what we are called to do. That's what we're elected to do. That's what we take an oath to do. And when the rights and liberties of people to make their own personal health care decisions as a condition for employment, when someone said you've got to get this vaccine or you're fired. I think that's the proper role for the state government to step in and say not here, not in Texas.