Florida GOP limits on vaccine mandates nears final passage

Coronavirus

FILE – Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a cooler before being thawed at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site in the Bronx borough of New York on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. On Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, Pfizer asked U.S. regulators to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older, a step that comes amid concern about increased spread of the coronavirus with holiday travel and gatherings. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A proposal to blunt coronavirus vaccine mandates in Florida businesses is inching closer to becoming law, with House Republicans approving the bill over objections that they were sacrificing public health to serve the political ambitions of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

House lawmakers passed the bill Wednesday on a party line vote after lengthy debate where Republicans said they were protecting workers from being fired over vaccines and federal mandates.

According to Gov. DeSantis’s website, he’s calling on the legislature to consider legislation that will:  

  • Protect current and prospective employees against unfair discrimination on the basis of COVID-19 vaccination status and ensure robust enforcement for this protection;
  • Ensure that educational institutions and government entities are prohibited from unfairly discriminating against current and prospective employees, students, and residents on the basis of COVID-19 vaccination status;
  • Ensure that employees improperly denied employment on the basis of COVID-19 vaccination status can be eligible for reemployment benefits and, if needed, ensure that employees injured by a COVID-19 vaccination taken pursuant to a company policy are covered by workers’ compensation;
  • Appropriate a sufficient amount of funds to investigate complaints regarding COVID-19 vaccination mandates and to take legal action against such mandates, including mandates imposed by the Federal Government;
  • Clarify that the Parents’ Bill of Rights, Chapter 1014, Florida Statutes, vests the decision on masking with parents, not government entities, and that schools must comply with Department of Health rules that govern student health, including rules that ensure healthy students can remain in school; 
  • Limit mandates by school districts on students or employees regarding COVID-19 and related mitigation measures;
  • Provide adequate enforcement mechanisms to ensure that Florida law is followed and the rights of parents are honored;
  • Direct the State to evaluate whether it should assert jurisdiction over occupational safety and health issues for government and private employees;
  • Repeal the authority for the State Health Officer to order forced injections or vaccinations under Section 381.00315, Florida Statutes, originally enacted in 2002; and
  • Create as necessary public records exemptions related to complaints and investigations described herein.

DeSantis, a Republican, called lawmakers into the special legislative session to pass the measure as part of an ongoing feud with the White House over vaccine mandates.

If the bill passes, Capitol News Desk’s Jake Stofan says $6 million will go towards enforcing a mandate ban and creating a new statewide occupational safety agency.

Democrats have repeatedly slammed the package as political theater meant to serve DeSantis, who is running for reelection and eyeing a possible 2024 presidential bid.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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