If you run a business, any business – including a medical practice – you may be subject to Texas’ new law barring businesses from requiring customers to produce COVID-19 vaccine documentation – now known in common parlance as a “vaccine passport.”
But exactly how does the vaccine-passport law, Senate Bill 968 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), affect medical practices like yours? Although it’s a little early to know exactly how the law will be enforced, a Texas Medical Association white paper (login required) is here with some guidance. The white paper has also been updated with information on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Oct. 11 executive order, which prohibits compelling another person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if the person objects due to personal conscience, religious beliefs, or medical reasons, which can include prior recovery from COVID-19.
As explained in the two-page white paper, “Senate Bill 968 and Governor's Orders: Prohibition on COVID-19 Vaccine Passport,” the vaccine-passport ban doesn’t explicitly include an exception for businesses that provide health care services, so your medical practice might be required to adhere to the ban on asking for vaccination documentation. And, in light of the October executive order, “If a practice were to require a patient to provide documentation of COVID-19 vaccination to receive treatment, that could, depending on the facts, arguably constitute compelling the patient to receive the vaccine, and thus the practice might be found to have violated” Governor Abbott’s order, the white paper says. Each violation of that latest executive order is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
Businesses that do not comply with the ban risk not being eligible for state grants and state funding. However, it is unclear how broadly or narrowly the law’s language will be interpreted, the white paper notes. Depending on that factor, TMA’s white paper provides guidelines on what funding may – or may not – be at risk for a medical practice that does not comply with the ban on asking for documented proof of vaccination status.
The law leaves enforcement to “appropriate” state agencies. It is unknown whether the Texas Medical Board will be taking action on potential violations of the law. Because of the lack of clarity on enforcement, the white paper says, “it is important to seek guidance from your retained attorney if you have a question about how your practice may be impacted by SB 968.”
While certain medical practices and other businesses may be required to avoid collecting vaccination documentation, the white paper notes, SB 968 “does not expressly prohibit asking about the customer’s COVID-19 vaccination status or post-transmission recovery status in another manner that is not written or otherwise reduced to documentation, such as an oral question.”
Nor does the law prohibit businesses from implementing lawful screening and infection controls to protect public health. For information on screening protocols, visit TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center.