On Thursday we published an article about how Dallas County’s new mask mandate required masks to be worn indoors in all businesses in Dallas County was unconstitutional. I stand by this point of view. The mask mandate was implemented by Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat. Not to be outdone, Republicans have also dabbled in a little government overreach of their own, and we are here to call them out on it.
Before I get into the substance of this article, I want to help frame your mindset for reading it. This is basically a companion piece to Thursday’s article, so some of the arguments and information you might need to fill in any blanks you believe are in this article can likely be found there. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about overreach.
Senate Bill 968
Senate Bill 968, the full text of which can be found here, was written by Republican Lois Kolkhorst (pictured) and was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in June. The bill, like many laws, is much longer and more complicated than it needs to be, but the main highlight is that Texas regulatory agencies can revoke state licenses for businesses that want to require proof of vaccine or negative Covid test before a patron can enter the establishment. That’s right. If a bar wants to check your government ID to make sure you’re over 21, that’s perfectly okay. But if that same bar wants to check to see if you’ve been vaccinated against a very contagious virus, then the government will revoke their liquor license.
Just read that last sentence again. And one more time after that. Have you ever read anything more unnecessary and stupid? One of the things that makes free market economics so great is that businesses will adapt to social and economic trends to accommodate their customer base because businesses want to make every dollar they can, so it’s in their best interest to take actions that will keep the business running.
It’s Just Business
One way businesses like to stay open is by not having to shut down because of Covid. Last year was notoriously bad for many businesses, but especially entertainment-based businesses like bars, restaurants, and movie theaters. Staffing was down, patronage was down, and sometimes businesses were forced to close for several days at a time to prevent a Covid-positive staff member from spreading the illness to other employees or customers.
Knowing that, some businesses understandably want to be certain that customers are either vaccinated or have a negative Covid test before entering their establishment. Makes sense, right? Checking vaccine status serves two purposes that I can think of off the top of my head: 1) It helps ensure the wellbeing of the staff and patrons, which will lead to fewer store closings and more money; and 2) It helps establish a pattern of responsible behavior so that if a customer was ever to sue the business claiming it was the business’s fault the customer caught Covid, the business can turn around and say, “Plaintiff didn’t catch Covid here, and we know that because we require proof of vaccine for every employee and customer and do not allow unvaccinated people into the building.”
Of course with the new delta variant of Covid, even the vaccinated are getting sick. Sure, the vaccinated tend to get less sick, spend less time in the hospital, and are less likely to die, but they can still catch the virus.
But what more could businesses do? They can’t shut down again. It doesn’t make sense to go back to half capacity because some businesses like restaurants can’t survive at half capacity. They can’t force people to get vaccinated. They can’t jab every customer with a dose of Moderna each time they come to the store. The only thing they can do to help prevent the spread of Covid is try to ensure that their staff and customers are vaccinated or Covid negative. Seems pretty intuitive to me.
But Republicans in the Texas legislature and governor’s office decided that wouldn’t fly. They don’t want businesses asking for proof of vaccine or a negative Covid test, and that is blatantly overreaching and unconstitutional. Any business should be allowed to have whatever policy they want about who comes patronizes their store. Dress code, decorum standards, maybe even a volume limit? Whatever. Businesses should be able to do that. The right to privacy discussed in Thursday’s article extends to businesses. Businesses should, for the most part, be able to conduct their business without the government stepping in to “help.”
If anyone disagrees with a restaurant’s Covid protocols, they are free to go to a different restaurant. That’s the beauty of capitalism. There are always choices. Don’t like what they’re doing at McDonald’s? Go to Wendy’s. Don’t like that Le Cigare Volant wants to see your vaccine passport before seating you? Go somewhere else. It’s really that simple. Why should the rights of the customer supersede the rights of the business? The business owns the place and as such should have the authority to set almost any standard for entry.
And for anyone who is about to bring up medical privacy laws, I have a rebuttal. Have you ever done anything that required a brief health questionnaire at the beginning? Haunted house, amusement park, CrossFit, etc.? Places like that normally ask their patrons whether they have any heart issues. They ask this because the fright of a haunted house or adrenaline of a roller coaster or strenuousness of CrossFit can kill you if you have a heart condition. Does anyone have an issue with that? They ask that questions for the safety of the customer, for the comfort of other customers who might otherwise have to watch someone die of a coronary, and, of course, to satisfy the lawyers and insurance companies when someone does die and their family sues for wrongful death.
How is that any different from the Covid passport? It’s for the safety of the customer because if the customer is not vaccinated they could catch the illness from an asymptomatic carrier in the restaurant. It’s for the safety of other customers because they might not want to eat around someone who is unvaccinated and therefore more likely to catch and spread Covid. And the businesses want to have some liability insulation in case someone does catch Covid at that business.
The right to privacy protects citizens from unwarranted government interference. It does not protect consumers from business owners who want some simple information. The customers are not having their privacy rights violated because they are private people at private businesses and there are no state actors involved. The businesses, however, are having their privacy rights trampled on because they are trying to do what is best for the physical and financial health of their business and their customers but the government won’t let them do it, and the punishment for doing it is to possibly be put out of business.
It’s just not fair. It’s not. It’s about as unfair as it gets, actually. Restaurants and other businesses just want to make sure that their staff and customer base are as safe as possible, but the government doesn’t want that. Greg Abbott and all other Texas Republicans who voted for this bill are not the champions of limited government and free enterprise they claim to be. It’s shameful that anyone would even think to codify such a stupid idea, but here we are. You know what you should get your business license revoked for? Putting customers and staff at risk by violating health standards or overserving obviously drunk idiots or poisoning food or committing fraud or generally creating an unsafe environment. You know what you shouldn’t have your business license revoked for? Asking for proof of a Covid vaccination or negative Covid test.
Once again Republicans and Democrats alike have proven that they don’t care about people, they just care about scoring political points that will do nothing but excite their most radical fanbase while alienating those of us with the capacity for rational thought. Covid has revealed more political ineptitude than any other event in my lifetime, and I, for one, am getting pretty sick of it.