Florida special session on vaccine mandates begins Monday

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News) – Lawmakers are gearing up for a special session on vaccine and mask mandates set to begin Monday. 

Three key pieces of legislation are in play and what ultimately makes it across the finish line is still to be seen.

The biggest agenda item for the upcoming special session would require businesses to provide exemptions from any employee vaccine mandate.

Violations come with fines between $10,000 and $50,000.

Employees would have to be allowed to opt-out of an employer’s vaccine mandate for medical or religious reasons. Employees could also prove they have existing immunity or opt for employer-provided testing or PPE.

“There are significant portions of our population with actual health concerns about this,” said Republican Representative Alexander Andrade who is sponsoring one of the special session bills.

Small business groups tell us their only concern is ensuring the law is clear.

“Easy for any business owner to understand of what constitutes a business vaccine mandate,” said Bill Herrle, Executive Director of NFIB Florida.

But Democrats like Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith take issue with the bill’s blanket ban on public sector vaccine mandates.

“COVID-19 is the number one killer of law enforcement in Florida,” said Smith.

There’s also a proposal to create the state’s own version of OSHA as a response to the federal OSHA vaccine mandate that spurred the special session in the first place.

“If OSHA is now gonna become this kind of, you know, enforcement arm of White House policies without any kind of Congressional oversight, absolutely the state should go assert its jurisdiction in that space,” said Andrade. 

The third bill, which Andrade is carrying, would remove the Surgeon General’s emergency powers to require vaccinations during a health emergency.

“Providing comfort to folks right now that no, the state’s not gonna force you to get a vaccine,” said Andrade.

Smith fears what that could mean for a future pandemic.

“Imagine a virus that has a 90 percent fatality rate,” said Smith.

Most uncertain is whether Republicans have the votes to impose the heavy-handed fines businesses would face for violating vaccine exemptions.

They’ll have just five days to work out a deal.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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