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Your Rights in Texas Regarding Mask and COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Many people have contacted Texas Values because they want to understand what their rights are in Texas regarding the mask and the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The short answer is, both Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have recently issued documents that confirm Texans’ right not to wear a mask or be forced to get a COVID-19 shot in Texas. Your city or town may try to make their own rules, but please keep in mind that local orders don’t and can’t overrule state executive orders. State executive orders have the “force and effect of law” and therefore they supersede inconsistent rules and regulations at the local level.

On March 13, 2020, Gov. Abbott declared a state of disaster in Texas due to COVID-19, a declaration that is ongoing. On July 30, 2021, Gov. Abbott renewed the disaster declaration. Upon declaring a disaster, the Texas Legislature authorized Gov. Abbott “to issue executive orders, proclamations, and regulations and amend or rescind them.” The Governor’s executive orders issued pursuant to his emergency powers under chapter 418 of the Government Code “have the force and effect of law.”

On July 29, 2021 Gov. Abbott signed Executive Order GA-38, which “supersedes all pre-existing COVID-19-related executive orders and rescinds them in their entirety…This executive order shall remain in effect and in full force unless it is modified, amended, rescinded, or superseded by the governor. This executive order may also be amended by proclamation of the governor.”

An August 11, 2021 press release says that “the Texas Disaster Act clearly states that the Governor has the power to guide the state through emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Any school district, public university, or local government official that decides to defy the order will be taken to court.”

Here’s a little bit of a general background on the current situation in Texas:

Your Rights Regarding Mask Mandates in Texas

The July 29, 2021 Executive Order GA-38 states, “To further ensure that no governmental entity can mandate masks, the following requirements shall continue to apply: No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering… This shall supersede any face-covering requirement imposed by any local governmental entity or official.”

The Order continues, “The imposition of any such face-covering requirement by a local governmental entity or official constitutes a ‘failure to comply with’ this executive order that is subject to a fine up to $1,000. Even though face coverings cannot be mandated by any governmental entity, that does not prevent individuals from wearing one if they choose.”

On August 11, 2021, Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Paxton also announced the filing of a mandamus petition in the 5th Court of Appeals to strike down Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ order which violates Executive Order GA-38 and state law regarding face masks:

“Under Executive Order GA-38, no governmental entity can require or mandate the wearing of masks,” said Governor Abbott. “The path forward relies on personal responsibility—not government mandates. The State of Texas will continue to vigorously fight the temporary restraining order to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans.”

On August 15, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding Gov. Abbott’s order prohibiting mask mandates.

Your Rights Regarding COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates in Texas

The July 29, 2021 Executive Order GA-38 also describes the rights of Texans regarding COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates. Here is an excerpt:

To ensure that vaccines continue to be voluntary for all Texans and that Texans’ private COVID-19-related health information continues to enjoy protection against compelled disclosure, in addition to new laws enacted by the legislature against so called “vaccine passports,” the following requirements apply:

  • No governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization.
  • State agencies and political subdivisions shall not adopt or enforce any order, ordinance, policy, regulation. rule, or similar measure that requires an individual to provide, as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place, documentation regarding the individual’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization…
  • Any public or private entity that is receiving or will receive public funds through any means, including grants, contracts, loans, or other disbursements of taxpayer money, shall not require a consumer to provide, as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place. documentation regarding the consumer’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization. No consumer may be denied entry to a facility financed in whole or in part by public funds for failure to provide documentation regarding the consumer’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization…

On August 11, 2021, Paxton released an Opinion on whether access to a government facility can be conditioned upon obtaining a vaccine issued under emergency usage authorization. It reiterates that Executive Order GA-38 prohibits state agencies and political subdivisions from conditioning an individual’s access to a government facility on receipt of a vaccine issued under emergency use authorization.

The Opinion also reminds people that the Eighty-seventh Legislature passed Senate Bill 968 which restricts businesses from requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination to enter, gain access to, or receive services from the business. S.B. 968 also added section 161.0085 to the Health and Safety Code to restrict governmental entities from issuing, and businesses from requiring the use of, COVID-19 vaccine passports in most circumstances.

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