Texas warns Austin restaurants that their liquor licenses could be revoked for requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations

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The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has warned two Austin restaurants that they could lose their liquor licenses for requiring their customers to provide proof of at least a first round of COVID-19 vaccinations before they would be served.

The two restaurants, Launderette and Fresa’s, were first alerted by the TABC on Wednesday that they were in violation of Senate Bill 968, which passed during this year’s regular legislative session.

A spokesperson for the TABC told The Texas Tribune in an email that neither of the restaurants’ owners were aware of the new law and that both immediately took steps to comply.

As a result, both restaurants posted the same message Thursday on their Facebook pages, alerting the public that they will no longer require proof of vaccination but asking guests to wear masks indoors when not seated at a table.

“While the agency has not taken formal action against any businesses to date, we have requested to meet with representatives of businesses where potential noncompliance could be taking place,” the TABC email said. “TABC is committed to working with business owners to ensure they have the information necessary to comply with all state statutes, including the provisions put in place by SB 968.”

One clause of SB 968 prohibits businesses from requiring customers to provide any documentation of their COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery in order to enter or receive service from that business. The TABC is empowered to require compliance with the law in order for the business to keep any state license or permit. It went into effect June 16, as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott signed it.

SB 968 was authored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who, like many of her Republican colleagues, has fought the idea of vaccine passports, as such proofs of vaccination are often called.

Abbott posted a video on his Twitter account of himself signing the bill in June. In it he said, “Texas is open 100%, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits.”

The governor has refused to back down on his COVID-19 policies, despite the fact that the highly contagious delta variant of the disease is rapidly filling Texas hospitals with patients, most of them unvaccinated. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas have increased by 400% in the last month.

The governor is also facing pushback in the courts from local leaders who are fighting his statewide ban on mask mandates. That battle could widen further: President Joe Biden said this week he’s checking to see if he can legally intervene to stop Abbott’s ban.

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