TAMPA (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Health will begin enforcing the state’s ban on vaccine passports on Sept. 16.
According to a DOH rule issued last Friday, Florida businesses, governments or education institutions that require proof of vaccination from customers or members of the public will face fines of $5,000. Violators will have the chance to appeal but, once the fine is finalized, they will have 30 days to pay.
The bill prohibiting vaccine passports was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Ron DeSantis. It allows the DOH to issue fines that do not exceed $5,000 per violation.
“Governor DeSantis is making decisions based on empirical evidence, upholding the rule of law and protecting all Floridians’ individual rights,” the governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, said in an email to 8 On Your Side. “Defending individual rights from unjustified overreach, whether by government or business, is a legitimate use of state executive power.”
Pushaw added in her email that, “allowing businesses and educational institutions to require vaccine passports as a condition of entry or service would create a two-tiered society, which is unfair.”
Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic candidate for governor Nikki Fried criticized the planned enforcement of the vaccine passport ban.
“This not only goes against common sense — it’s also an insult to the free market principles he claims to champion,” Fried said in a statement. “(DeSantis) has made it abundantly clear that he’s more interested in getting revenge against Floridians who are trying to do the right thing than he is in stopping the spread of COVID or supporting our local businesses.”
Sixty eight percent of eligible Florida residents 12 years or older have received at least one shot and the state’s vaccination rate ranks 19th in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
During this summer’s COVID-19 surge, hospitals across Tampa Bay have reported to 8 On Your Side that the vast majority of their patients have been unvaccinated. In August, the Florida Hospital Association reported a peak of more than 17,000 COVID hospitalizations.
Last month, a federal judge sided with Norwegian Cruise Line in its case challenging the Florida law prohibiting cruise companies from demanding passengers show proof of vaccination before boarding a ship.
Judge Kathleen Williams said the ban is unconstitutional on grounds of free speech.
“The First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the enactment of laws ‘abridging the freedom of speech’… Pursuant to this clause, a state ‘has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content,’” her ruling stated.
8 On Your Side has reached out to the Florida Department of Health to find out how many businesses have been cited so far for violating the ban on vaccine passports.