Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, June 7, signed into law a bill that would prohibit government entities and private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition for service or entry.
“Texas is open 100 percent, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits,” the Republican governor said before signing the law. “Vaccine passports are now prohibited in the Lone Star State.”
In March, Texas ended its statewide mask mandate and allowed all businesses to open at full capacity after having implemented mandates and restrictions due to the pandemic.
Under Senate Bill (SB) 968, businesses in the state that require customers to be vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19) will not be able to enter any state contracts and will be ineligible to receive a grant.
The bill introduced by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, covers many aspects of the public health disaster and public health emergency preparedness and response. SB 968 was approved unanimously in April and was passed by a vote of 146-2 by the state House in May.
“No business or government entity can require a person to provide a vaccine passport or any other vaccine information as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place,” said Abbott.
Effective immediately, Texas businesses “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,” the legislation states.
State agencies in charge of different business sectors can require that businesses comply with the new law as a condition to be authorized to conduct business in Texas.
Businesses can still implement their own COVID-19 infection control protocols “in accordance with state and federal law to protect public health.”
Abbott issued an executive order in April banning state agencies, political subdivisions and organizations receiving public funds from requiring vaccine passports or asking someone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to receive services or gain entry to premises. But the order did not include entirely private businesses. (Related: Gov. Abbott declares no government-mandated “vaccine passports” in Texas.)
The new law covers that with regard to vaccine passports and it could affect the plans of the Carnival Cruise Line to restart its operations.
The company announced Monday it will soon restart its cruises leaving from Galveston, Texas. However, it only allows vaccinated passengers on board after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it will allow the cruise industry to restart on the condition that 95 percent of crew members and 95 percent of customers are vaccinated. The CDC shut down cruise lines in March last year.
“We are evaluating the legislation recently signed into law in Texas regarding vaccine information,” Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen told the Houston Chronicle in an email. “The law provides exceptions for when a business is implementing COVID protocols in accordance with federal law, which is consistent with our plans to comply with the CDC guidelines.”
Carnival Vista is set to sail out of Galveston on July 3, followed by Carnival Breeze on July 15.
Cruise companies in Florida are facing similar predicament as they plan to restart their cruises with only vaccinated passengers. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month a bill that bans companies from requiring proof of vaccination from customers. Businesses in the state can be fined for requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has threatened to leave Florida if it is fined by the state for complying with CDC guidelines and checking vaccine status of its passengers. The company said Monday it would be restarting its cruises from Miami in August with fully vaccinated passengers and crew. (Related: Florida to fine cruise lines that require passengers to show coronavirus vaccine passports.)
But one cruise line has already reversed course. Royal Caribbean recently announced that only its ships departing from Seattle and the Bahamas on or before Aug. 1 will require passengers 16 and older to be vaccinated. There will be no vaccination requirements for its sailings from Texas or Florida.
The rule changes have left passengers confused, but travel agent Elaine Edwards said most people hoping to get on a cruise soon are already vaccinated, or planning to be before they board.
“I think people are just so excited [because] they didn’t get to cruise last summer, they didn’t get to cruise this winter, that they’re willing to – whatever the cruise line needs me to do, I will do it, because I want to get on that ship,” said Edwards.
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