As recently as late August, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said private businesses in his state were free to require that their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. His press secretary explained that "private businesses don't need government running their business."
Abbott evidently reassessed that premise, because last week he issued an executive order that says "no entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer." For anyone who genuinely cares about overweening government interference with free enterprise, Abbott's order is just as objectionable as the pending federal rule demanding that private companies with 100 or more employees require them to choose between vaccination and weekly coronavirus testing.
Abbott likes to brag about his state's "business-friendly climate." But even before last week's order, he was not prepared to let businesses decide for themselves how best to address COVID-19 hazards.
A state law that Abbott signed on June 16 says "a business in this state may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer's COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery on entry to, to gain access to, or to receive service from the business." Here is how Abbott explained his support for that law: "Texas is open 100 percent, and we want to make sure that you have the freedom to go where you want without limits."
That position sacrifices property rights and freedom of association on the altar of an unlimited "freedom" that has never been legally recognized: a customer's right to dictate the terms on which businesses offer products or services. By Abbott's logic, any business that proclaims "no shirt, no shoes, no service" or sets other rules for customers is thereby violating their freedom of movement.
The June 16 law still allowed businesses to require that their employees be vaccinated. But now Abbott has eliminated that option as well.
In principle, Abbott's order, which he asked the Texas legislature to codify, is no less outrageous than President Joe Biden's plan to dictate employers' vaccine policies through an "emergency temporary standard" issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While Abbott accused Biden of "bullying" private employers, the governor is equally unwilling to tolerate deviation from the one business policy he thinks is best.
The conflict between the OSHA rule (which has not been published yet) and Abbott's decree puts Texas businesses in an uncomfortable position. Large employers can either listen to him, risking federal fines by defying OSHA, or ignore him, risking state fines by flouting one of the governor's "emergency" orders.
The Houston Chronicle reports that "major corporations based in Texas, including Southwest Airlines and American Airlines," said "they would abide by Biden's rules over Abbott's." What about the owners of smaller companies who have concluded that requiring vaccination makes good business sense? Abbott thinks their opinions don't matter.
"The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, & our best defense against the virus, but should always remain voluntary & never forced," Abbott tweeted last week. But if someone is "forced" to do something whenever it is a condition of employment, all sorts of business decisions are ripe for second-guessing by politicians who deem them unfair or unreasonable.
"Texas is where liberty lives," Abbott's office says. "That's why the Lone Star State leads the nation in job creation over the last 10 years and in population growth over the last 14. As the 9th largest economy among the nations of the world, Texas offers a business-friendly climate—with no corporate or personal income tax—along with a highly skilled workforce, easy access to global markets, robust infrastructure and predictable regulations."
Those "predictable regulations" apparently include Abbott's unilateral ban on employee vaccination requirements, which came less than two months after he said such policies would be allowed. Despite what you might think, Abbott's idea of "liberty" clearly does not include the freedom to run your own business, unencumbered by arbitrary government edicts.
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