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Gov. Greg Abbott plans to sign bill to punish businesses that require proof of COVID-19 vaccination

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gives his State of the State Address in the House Chamber in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers have given final approval to allowing people carry handguns without a license, and the background check and training that go with it. The Republican-dominated Legislature approved the measure Monday, May 24, 2021 sending it to Gov. Abbott. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

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Texas businesses that require customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will be denied state contracts and could lose their license or operating permits under legislation Gov. Greg Abbott said he plans to sign into law on Monday.

“I’m signing a law today that prohibits any business operating in Texas from requiring vaccine passports or any vaccine information,” Abbott tweeted Monday. “Texas is open 100 percent without any restrictions or limitations or requirements.”

Senate Bill 968 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is a sweeping piece of legislation passed in the final days of the legislative session that includes a clause banning businesses from requiring proof of the vaccine from their customers.

Those that violate the ban may not contract with the state, and state agencies that oversee various sectors of business may decide to make compliance with the state law a condition of getting licensed or permitted.

Just under half of all Texans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. About 45% of Texans are fully vaccinated.

Abbott issued an executive order in April banning state agencies, political subdivisions and organizations receiving public funds from creating “vaccine passports” or otherwise requiring someone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to receive services.

Businesses may still implement “COVID-19 screening and infection control protocols in accordance with state and federal law to protect public health,” according to the new law, which goes into effect immediately.

Abbott’s comments come as Carnival Cruise Line announced Monday that it would be restarting its cruises leaving from Galveston in July but only allow vaccinated passengers on board, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the cruise industry to restart on the condition that 95% of crew and 95% of customers be vaccinated. The CDC shut down cruise lines in March 2020.

Carnival Vista sails out of Galveston on July 3, followed by Carnival Breeze on July 15. It was unclear on Monday how the new Texas law would affect those plans.

“We appreciate the progress and support for our U.S. restart from the CDC and other key federal agencies; however, the current CDC requirements for cruising with a guest base that is unvaccinated will make it very difficult to deliver the experience our guests expect, especially given the large number of families with younger children who sail with us,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said. “As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the U.S. during the month of July with vaccinated guests.”

Miami-based Carnival, along with Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and other cruise companies, are still in a standoff with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over restarting their cruises with only vaccinated passengers in spite of new legislation that DeSantis signed in May that bans companies from requiring proof of vaccination from customers.

The Florida law fines the businesses $5,000 for each customer required to do so. Norweigan has threatened to leave Florida if it is fined by the state for complying with CDC guidelines and checking vaccine status of its passengers.

Norwegian said Monday it would be restarting its cruises from Miami in August with fully vaccinated passengers and crew. The company does not currently operate out of Galveston but plans to start next year.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/07/texas-vaccine-passports-covid-19/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.


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