Texas – The Republican Party of Texas and many Texans called for the 87th Texas Legislature to address vaccine mandates as it seemed inevitable Texans would be subject to mandates from employers. Several bills were filed to ban mandates and enforce medical freedom and bodily autonomy with regard to the vaccinations.
Most of the bills were filed in the third special session. Four bills were filed relating to vaccines during the 87th regular session and most of those bills were for prioritizing and promoting awareness of the vaccines rather than protecting Texans from mandates. This signaled that the Republican-led Texas Legislature did not have the political will to pass a ban on vaccination mandates or vaccine passports. Governor Greg Abbott remained silent on the issue the entire regular session despite grassroots alerting the Governor to concerns surrounding pending job losses due to employer mandates and despite the RPT voicing opposition to the mandates and outcry from grassroots conservatives for the legislature to take action.
Ten bills relating to vaccine mandates were filed in the first special session, seventeen were filed in the second special session and 24 were filed in third special session. However, Governor Abbott did not add to the call a ban for vaccine mandates until near the end of the third and final special session. As the third special session drew to a close the death of another RPT priority legislation drew near. Two bills, SB 51 and HB 155, were the only bills to advance to public hearing in their committees.
The bills would require employers to allow employees to receive an exemption from a vaccine requirement based on their acquired immunity after contracting COVID-19; because of a medical condition; or for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief. SB 51 (relating to prohibited COVID-19 vaccine mandates and vaccination status discrimination and to exemptions from certain vaccine requirements) did not move to the Senate floor for a vote and died after the Senate State Affairs Committee report was distributed. HB 155 was left pending in the House Committee on State Affairs committee after a public hearing was held.
So, why did these bills die without even a hearing in either chamber? Perhaps that answer might be found by looking to the public hearings on these bills and the major donors to Republicans in the Texas Legislature. HB 155 was heard in committee on October 13th, 2021. The witness list indicates that Texans for Lawsuit Reform opposed the bill. Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) argued that employers needed the flexibility to maintain workplace safety and that a blanket ban on employer mandates would harm businesses. HB 155 was heard by the House Committee on State Affairs. Between the thirteen member committee, eleven of the members represent over $1 million in donations from TLR PAC since 2015, with Harless and Shaheen taking $192K and $520K respectively from TLR PAC in 2020. The bill was left pending in committee with no vote taken.
|Representative||Donations from TLR|
|Chris Paddie||$50K since 2015|
|Ana Hernandez (D)||$3K in 2020|
|Joe Deshotel (D)||$2.5K in 2020|
|Donna Howard (D)||NA|
|Sam Harless (R)||190K in 2020|
|Phil King (R)||147K since 2015|
|Eddie Lucio III (D)||38K in 2020|
|Will Metcalf (R)||25.5 K since 2015|
|Richard Pena Raymond (D)||NA|
|Matt Shaheen (R)||520K in 2020|
|Shelby Slawson (R)||13.5 since 2018|
|John T. Smithee (R)||27.5 since 2015|
|Total donations:||Over $1 million in donations since 2015 to members of committee|
TLR bragged on their website that opposition was growing to the exemptions from vaccine mandates. Their counsel and major donor, Lee Parsley argued, “When you begin to add more and more exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine, it creates more and more litigation,” “That’s what we’ve seen over the years: The exceptions to the doctrine have created litigation and richer lawyers.” Imagine that, employees having a greivance for being let go for not submitting to a medical procedure. We should invite that kind of litigation to provide Texans recourse.
|Senator||Donations from TLR since 2015|
|Bryan Hughes (R)||$359K|
|Brian Birdwell (R))||$40K|
|Donna Campbell (R)||$57.5K|
|Bob Hall (R)||$56K|
|Eddie Lucio Jr (D)||$551K ($501K being in 2020)|
|Jane Nelson (R)||$40K (20K in 2022)|
|Total donations since 2015:||$1.158 million in donations since 2015|
Also opposing the vaccine mandate exemptions for employees were Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Trucking Assoc., Tyson Foods, Austin Chamber of Commerce, City of San Antonio, City of Ft. Worth, Dallas Regional Chamber, San Antonio Chamber, Union Pacific Railroad, Texas Assoc. of Manufacturing, Texas Association of Business, and Texas RV Association among others.
This is not the first time that TLR has advanced the interests of businesses over the well-being and liberties of Texans. They also advocated for HB 19 in the regular session. The bill faced public backlash because it makes evidence of a defendant’s failure to comply with standards and regulations inadmissible in court unless that failure is directly related to the incident under litigation. Additionally, previous records of failure to comply with regulations not related to the incident are also inadmissible, and lawyers wanting proof of such failures must submit a court order that cannot explore more than two years of history. This limits plaintiffs’ ability to establish a chain of general negligence, which can sway juries into believing the trucking company has a history of dangerously not following rules. This makes evidence of a defendant’s failure to comply with standards and regulations inadmissible in court unless that failure is directly related to the incident under litigation.
The Texas Trucking Association released a statement which in part read:
“Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) designated trucking tort reform as priority legislation. House Bill 19 was authored by Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Plano) and more than 70 co-authors in the House of Representatives. The bill was sponsored in the senate by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and a bipartisan group of 16 co-sponsors. Representative Eddie Lucio, III (D-Brownsville) led efforts by a coalition of democrats that ultimately gave House Bill 19 the bipartisan support that carried over into the Senate. The final bill reflected input through public testimony and a broad coalition of stakeholders”.
HB 19 was heard in the House Committee for Judicial and Civil Jurisprudence which is chaired by Jeff Leach (R -Allen, TX) who recieved over $1 million in 2020 from the TLR PAC. Additionally, Leach has already received $60K from the PAC this campaign season. Leach authored the bill and it sailed on to passage in both chambers and was signed by Governor Abbott. Reformation Austin asked if Leach was committing an ethics violation:
“Leach is part of the law firm Gray Reed, which is “often called upon to investigate and defend clients sued in personal injury and wrongful death cases involving vehicle collisions, trucking accidents, professional negligence and equipment failure.” Changes to the way wrongful death and other trucking accident lawsuits are prosecuted will almost certainly benefit his employer in future litigation.”
“This is an action that could have dire consequences for the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee Chair. He faces potential disbarment if investigated. Rule 1.10 of the Texas State Bar Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states that no member can use a publicly held position (such as representative) to directly benefit a client. At the very least, Leach must give notice to the governing body that HB 19 could or would aid current or future cases being defended by Gray Reed.”
Some representatives who helped pass HB 19, received more than $100K in 2020 from TLR PAC. They include: Steve Allison ($605K), Brad Buckley ($506K), Angie Button ($518K), David Cook ($234K), Craig Goldman ($262K), Eric Harless (192K), Lacey Hull ($645K), Jacy Jetton ($640K), Phil King ($147K), Matt Krause ($237K), Mike Schofield ($460K), and Matt Shaheen ($520K).
It certainly appears that the TLR PAC has more influence in the Texas Legislature than the people of Texas who elect the legislators to represent them. The bills filed relating to vaccine mandates can be found here, here, here, and here. Although Bryan Hughes and Bob Hall appear in the graphics, they did file bills to stop vaccine mandates. Senator Hall filed more bills than any other legislator to stop vaccine mandates.
Going forward towards the primary election on March 1 (early voting begins Feb 14th) the only thing left for Republican voters to do to weaken the influence of this powerful PAC and amplify voter voices is to not vote for any candidates who have taken money from this influential PAC that does not have Texans’ best interests at heart.
You can check your candidates donors out here by entering the candidate’s name in the search bar. Be sure to check prior years as well. Want to know who the wealthy donors are who are watering down Texas voices for vaccine freedom? Search the donors for TLR at this link.
This is why the Republican primary elections are so important. This is your chance to fire those incumbents who do not represent your interests. Just remember this, Dade Phelan and Dan Patrick prioritized protecting trucking companies from accidental injury claims and did not prioritize RPT priorities, vaccine freedom, banning gender modification for minors, and safeguarding school children from obscenity.
See you at the polls!