By Jack Fink

DALLAS/AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – A Texas House Committee held a hearing on a bill Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 13 that would ban a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The State Affairs Committee is considering House Bill 155 two days after Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order that bans a vaccine mandate and asked lawmakers to pass legislation.

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On Tuesday night, Governor Abbott explained his order in an interview for the first time.

“I wanted to make it clear for all Texans they can not be required to have a mandatory vaccine against their will in Texas,” Abbott said.

State lawmakers are reacting along party lines.

Democratic State Senator Nathan Johnson of Dallas criticized the governor’s order.

“It’s a profoundly harmful mistake,” Johnson said. “It’s just pushing our divisions deeper.”

Republican State Representative Brian Harrison of Waxahachie praised the order.

“I was very excited to see the governor take some bold action here,” he said.

The governor said he is pushing back against a pending federal mandate by the Biden administration.

It would use OSHA regulations to have companies with 100 or more employees to either require a COVID-19 vaccine or get tested for the virus regularly, possibly each week.

Under HB 155, people would be allowed to claim exemptions from the vaccine as an employee or customer.

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The exemptions could be for medical or religious reasons or if a person already tested positive for the virus.

Under the bill, employees could file a lawsuit against their employer.

Legal experts have said the federal rules supersede state orders or legislation unless they’re successfully challenged in court.

Representative Harrison filed a similar bill.

“It’s a very comprehensive COVID mandate ban and very simply says no person can force or coerce any other person in the State of Texas to receive a vaccine if it’s against their wishes,” Harrison said. “This is the boldest assertion of liberty and freedom against the impending federal government mandate, states like Texas have got to lead the way in pushing back against these mandates.”

Representative Johnson said businesses should be able to require employees and customers to get the vaccine.

“I’ve got a friend who runs a small kitchen; they deliver meals around town, six people working in a kitchen,” Johnson said. “Should five of them be exposed because one of them doesn’t want to get a vaccine, or should that employer be able to dismiss an employee who refuses to get vaccinated? Venues like a bar or a movie theater or concert venue should be able to require patrons to show proof of vaccination, or a rapid test so that they’re not becoming a super spreader event.”

He said he prefers requiring employers to regularly test workers for the virus except for those fully vaccinated. “Everybody has to test once a week unless you’re vaccinated, that would take care of this. Instead, it is like a big gas can fire partisan stuff, anti-science, it’s a mess.”

Harrison said he agreed a testing mandate is less intrusive than a vaccine mandate, but that he remains focused on passing legislation to prevent requiring people to get a COVID-19 shot.

The third special session ends Tuesday night, so a bill would have to pass both the House and Senate by then before it can get to the governor’s desk.

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