Florida Republicans have approved a sweeping bill to hobble coronavirus vaccine mandates in businesses
Lawmakers in GOP-controlled statehouse expedited the measure, along with a package of virus bills, after hours of debate in which Republicans maintained they were protecting workers from onerous mandates by the federal government.
“If you want to get a vaccine, you can get a vaccine. If you don’t want to get a vaccine, you can choose not to get a vaccine,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican. “That’s the entire purpose of this bill, trusting Floridians and allowing us to make that choice for ourselves.”
The vote Wednesday night capped a short session in which Republicans were all but certain to pass the bills. The most contentious measure would prevent private businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear. The state health department, which is led by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who opposes mandates, will be tasked with defining standards for the exemptions.
The measure also includes fines for businesses that fire a worker without allowing the exemptions. Additionally, it bars schools and governments in the state from having vaccine mandates and allows parents to sue schools with masking requirements. Another bill would block the public release of records regarding state investigations of vaccine policies in businesses.
Democrats have repeatedly slammed the legislation as dangerous to the public and burdensome to businesses. They also said the special session amounts to political theater meant to serve DeSantis’ political ambitions.
“Does this bill truly attempt to keep Floridians safe, or was it crafted to kick off a presidential campaign for our governor?” asked Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat.
Florida — with more than two dozen other GOP-led states, employers and several conservative and business organizations — has sued over the OSHA rule and a federal court has since placed it on hold. The state has also sued over another White House mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccines for federal contractors.
During debate, Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, echoed frustrations his party have maintained since the session was called.
“Let’s call this exactly what it is, and this is the governor’s direct defiance of the president and the federal government, that is the only reason we’re here right now,” said Jones.