Jackson Walker

Of the approximately 150 bills and resolutions related to COVID-19 that were filed, only 20 were passed by the 87th Texas Legislature and sent to Governor Abbott for signature. This article summarizes three pandemic-related bills that successfully reached the Governor’s desk during the regular session.

Senate Bill 6: Pandemic Liability Relief

SB 6, named the Pandemic Liability Protection Act, is awaiting Governor Abbott’s signature. Should the Governor sign the bill into law, or if he fails to veto it on or before June 20, 2021, SB 6 would provide retroactive civil liability protections for healthcare providers, first responders, and other businesses, and would extend current immunity to physicians, healthcare providers, and first responders “during a man-made disaster, natural disaster, or a health care emergency.” Also, under the bill, physicians and those other professionals would generally not be liable for injuries or death “arising from care, treatment, or failure to provide care or treatment” related to or impacted by the pandemic.

Among other services, the protections would apply to:

  • Prescribing, administering, or dispensing drugs for off-label use to treat the disease;
  • Screening, assessing, diagnosing, or treating someone who is infected or suspected of being infected with a pandemic disease;
  • Delaying or canceling non-urgent or elective medical, surgical, or dental procedures; and
  • Acts or omissions caused by a lack of staffing, personnel, facilities, supplies, and devices.

Related Insights: Texas House Passes Pandemic Liability Protection Act »

Senate Bill 25: Right to Designate an “Essential Caregiver”

Also awaiting the Governor’s signature, SB 25 would require nursing homes and assisted living centers to allow families to designate an “essential caregiver” who will be allowed in-person visits—even during a pandemic. The legislation clarifies that essential caregivers need not provide “necessary care” in order to qualify, and that a facility or provider cannot require a caregiver to provide such care.

Under SB 25, nursing homes, state supported living centers, and long-term care facilities could petition the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to suspend visits by designated essential caregivers if in-person visitation “poses a serious community health risk.” SB 25 would limit the initial suspension of visits to seven days, regulate the length of any extension of the suspension approved by the HHSC, and cap the total number of days each year a facility or provider could suspend essential caregiver visits.

Senate Bill 968: Prohibited “Vaccine Passports”

As covered in a June 9 update by Jackson Walker, Governor Abbott has signed into law SB 968, which prohibits any business operating in Texas from requiring customers to show proof of their vaccination status or post-infection recovery status in exchange for receiving services. This law followed a similar executive order Abbott issued on April 5, 2021 that applied only to state agencies and private organizations that receive state funding. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are exempt and can still require visitors to show proof of vaccination.

In addition to banning private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination on entry to, to gain access to, or to receive services from the business, SB 968 provides that any business that does require proof of vaccination will not be permitted to engage in state contracts, and some state agencies that regulate different business sectors may screen for compliance with SB 968 in issuing licenses and permits. SB 968 states that it should not be read to prohibit businesses from implementing COVID-19 screening and infection measures in line with state and federal law.

SB 968 went into effect immediately.