Tennessee, Texas governors move to ban vaccine passport proposals

FILE - In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. (NY Governor's Press Office via AP, File)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott used his executive power to ban state government and some private entities from requiring COVID-19 “vaccine passports,” which are being developed in some areas.

Currently, so-called vaccine passports — which show whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19 — exist only in New York via a government-sponsored smartphone app. But Republicans nationwide are pursuing proposals to ban their use as a restriction against people’s activities.

“I think vaccine passports are a bad idea. I do not believe that government should impose vaccine requirements or mandates in any way,” Lee told reporters, while urging the GOP-controlled General Assembly to advance legislation this year to prohibit such requirements.

Lee added that he hoped private businesses also don’t impose vaccine passport mandates, but said that he doesn’t believe “that government should impose itself in the private affairs of business practices.” The version of the legislation advanced by a House subcommittee Tuesday does not preclude businesses from requiring a vaccine passport on their own.

According to Abbott’s order, state agencies and political subdivisions, and public and private organizations that receive public funding in Texas cannot require people to prove that they have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

The mandate also states that it will supersede any conflicting local executive orders and calls for the Texas Legislature to take up COVID-19 vaccine requirements during its ongoing current session.

“We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health — and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms,” Abbott said in a statement announcing the order.

Vaccine passports are in use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe.

Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has said he considered the passports a project for the private sector, not the government.

Lawmakers in Arkansas and Pennsylvania are considering similar measures. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis already has signed an executive order declaring that no governmental entity may issue a vaccine passport, and businesses in that state can’t require them.

Abbott said the U.S. Constitution does not empower the federal government to mandate proof of vaccination. The White House has ruled out a national “vaccine passport,” saying it is leaving it to the private sector to develop a system for people to show they’ve been vaccinated. The Biden administration is developing guidelines for such passports, touching on privacy, accuracy and equity.