TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A mid-January legislative proposal by Gov. Ron DeSantis has found its sponsors in the Florida Legislature and is moving through committees. It’s one of several legislative proposals put forth by DeSantis in 2023.
Unlike previous COVID-19 specific legislation in the state, the protections for unvaccinated Floridians extends to any diseases, rather than just the virus from the most recent pandemic.
The proposal marks part of a third year of governmental efforts to ensure vaccines do not impact employment and business in Florida. At the end of 2022, DeSantis also successfully petitioned for a statewide grand jury panel on COVID vaccinations and oversight.
The governor’s announcement on Jan. 17 had him promising the measures “will permanently protect Floridians from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, protects parents’ rights, and institutes additional protections that prevent discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccine status.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 222, titled “Protection of Medical Freedom,” was filed by Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) the day after DeSantis’ announcement. In the Florida House of Representatives, Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-Volusia) filed the identical companion bill at the start of February.
Now filed, here’s a breakdown of what the legislation does.
According to SB 222’s summary, it would prevent the Florida Department of Health from requiring any resident enroll in Florida’s immunization registry, Florida SHOTS, as well as require anyone to “submit to immunization tracking,” nor would businesses or any level of government entity be able to require “proof of vaccination or postinfection recovery from any disease” in order to “gain access to, entry upon, or service.”
Employers would also be legally prevented from refusing employment, discharging employees, disciplining, demoting “or otherwise discriminating” against workers “solely on the basis of vaccination or immunity status.” The bill describes itself as a revision to the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, and would add to the provisions “to include discrimination protection for vaccination or immunity status.”
It is worth noting that Florida is an at-will state, when it comes to the rights of both employers and employees to hiring, firing, and resignations. What that normally means is that you can be fired for any reason, or quit for any reason, with the exceptions of discrimination based on specific categories.
Gruters’ bill would add the protection for discrimination and immunity status to the state’s civil rights statutes, making it illegal to be blocked, fired, or demoted for either their status as vaccinated, or their lack of vaccination.
For the family information, Gruters’ proposed legislation would allow parents to opt-out of reporting their children’s vaccination statuses, but must fill out the form and submit it to the FDOH or have their physician or health care practitioner do so for them.
Florida colleges and universities are also prevented from sharing immunization data, at the request of refusal by a student patient. Students can also submit the form to FDOH or direct the university’s health clinic to do so.
A change the legislation makes to previous statutes is to remove “COVID-19” from the specific documentation requirements about vaccines and postinfection, instead expanding the protections for customers or patrons to “any disease” when it comes to business operation and government services.
The legislation also expands protections to require that health care providers still perform services regardless of “a patient receiving or having received a particular vaccine or having recovered from infection from a particular disease.”
In terms of provided services, the legislation expands this to insurance providers as well as medical services.
However, the bill also changes policy to not “require an insurer to provide insurance coverage for a medical condition that the applicant or policyholder has already sustained,” nor can they instead charge a higher premium as a result of said medical, vaccine, or immunity-focused discrimination.