Thanks to advocacy by the Texas Medical Association, guardrails for patient safety and practice viability are included in a new state law that prohibits employers, including physician offices and health care facilities, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines among employees.
TMA worked with the authors of Senate Bill 7 to ensure that physician employers can require employees and contractors who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear reasonable personal protective equipment. Similarly, the association ensured any employer found in violation of the law will have a chance to remedy the situation before facing a steep penalty of $50,000 per violation.
Jimmy Widmer, MD, an internist in Belton and member of TMA’s Council on Legislation, delved into these nuances while testifying on TMA's behalf during an Oct. 10 Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing.
“As physicians, it is important that our patients have a safe place to receive medical care,” he told lawmakers. “Doctors’ offices in Texas should have the freedom to set their own vaccination policies in alignment with the best interests of the patients they serve.”
Matt Dowling, TMA’s lobbyist on public health issues, says the version of SB 7 that ultimately passed during the third special session was much improved compared to earlier drafts, including one filed during the regular session, which would have increased physicians’ liability and exposure to potential lawsuits.
“Since it was a special session, there was a very high likelihood that the bill was going to pass,” he told Texas Medicine Today. “So, any changes we could get made to it were a win.”
Fortunately, state lawmakers were sympathetic to TMA’s concerns. For instance, state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), an organ recipient, raised questions about the bill’s impact on business owners and the need to protect immunosuppressed patients like himself.
“As we provide this freedom for [individual employees], which I’m supporting, let’s not lose the perspective that you’re also taking away from [individual business owners],” he said during the same hearing.
SB 7 will take effect Feb. 6, 2024. In the meantime, TMA will monitor the rulemaking process, spearheaded by the Texas Workforce Commission, with input from the Texas Department of State Health Services on what constitutes reasonable personal protective equipment.
For more information on TMA’s advocacy during the 2023 state legislative sessions, visit the association’s Physician Advocacy webpage.