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Senator Paul Bettencourt: District 7
Press Release
April 18, 2022
Contact: Kate Lilly
(512) 463-0107
Attorney General Ken Paxton Issues Opinion in Response to Senator Bettencourt's Questioned on HISD's Vaccine Policy
Senator Bettencourt questioned if HISD's leave policy would make any additional COVID-19 specific paid leave a "vaccine passport"

Austin, TX - Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) reports upon his request to the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, to review the legality of HISD’s Covid-19 leave policy and the Opinion received from Attorney General Paxton. The policy that HISD adopted for the 2021-2022 school year offers a maximum of 10 additional paid sick days for staffers who were fully vaccinated and those who had medical exemptions should they contract COVID-19, while unvaccinated staff must use their personal leave should they test positive.

"The Attorney General Opinion recognizes the obvious that in Texas because of Governor Abbott's EO GA-39 and SB 968, ISDs cannot give extra leave for employees using documentation requiring a "vaccine passport". It's up to the TEA to look at enforcement rules and to prevent this from occurring. This is a simple fairness issue," stated Senator Paul Bettencourt.

Bettencourt initiated the request for the AG to review this after SB 968 was passed and Abbott's Executive Order GA-39. Paxton's office opined the belief that the policy constituted a vaccine passport stating that “A court would likely conclude that, by offering additional paid leave only to those employees showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a medical exemption, the Houston Independent School District’s COVID-19 paid leave policy violates Executive Order GA-39. Any standard documentation that certifies an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status constitutes a “vaccine passport” under subsection 161.0085(b) of the Health and Safety Code.” This opinion applies to any TEA enforcement of this issue.

"Proud to see SB 968 once again protecting Texans from vaccine passports of any kind," stated Senator Lois Kolkhorst.

Additionally, Paxton stated that HISD’s Covid-19 paid-leave policy does not, on its face, violate an employee’s medical privacy rights, but clarified “HISD is a covered entity under the Texas Medical Records and Privacy Act and must comply with its provisions. Any information related to the vaccination status of an employee would be covered as “protected health information” under the TMRPA (as the statute adopts the federal definition) and treated accordingly”. Subsection 161.0085(b) does not permit a government entity to issue nor share standard documentation that certifies an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status for any purpose other than for health care. Sharing information for an employment matter (or any other non-health care related purpose) would not be permitted under this statute. As written, subsection 161.0085(c) clearly prohibits a business from requiring submission of such documentation from a customer.