Florida lawmakers may expand COVID-19 protections as Leon County faces fines for vaccine requirements

Florida

A medic places two vials of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines (L to R): Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, on a table before administering doses at a Clalit Health Services Medical Centre in east Jerusalem on August 10, 2021. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP) (Photo by HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) — Florida Senators asked COVID-related questions and got few answers Wednesday from both the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration. One question not asked was about pending fines for businesses and governments who have been accused of asking for proof of vaccination.

When the Department of Health appeared before lawmakers Wednesday, it wasn’t asked about the $3.57 million fine it is imposing on Leon County for its vaccine mandate. 

A department spokesperson brushed off questions from Cap News about the fines after their presentation in the Senate committee meeting.

“We’ll get back to you as soon as possible,” said Department of Health Spokesperson Megan Moran.

Democratic State Senator Janet Cruz alleged the Department wouldn’t speak in person because everyone is following a script.

“It’s about control. You know, it’s about the mask mandate. It’s about denying science,” said Cruz.

The Department of Health did respond with a statement later in the afternoon. 

“Under the rule, the Florida Department of Health now has the authority to enforce penalties on applicable entities and institutions that require documentation of vaccination or post-exposure status. To ensure accountability and enforcement of this law, the Department of Health, Floridians and visitors can submit complaints to the Florida Department of Health at VaxPassFreeFL@FLHealth.gov,” said DOH Communications Director Weesam Khoury.

The fine comes as the Department of Health is investigating at least 120 businesses who may have required a vaccine to enter. 

Leon County has 21 days to file an administrative appeal. In a statement, the county said it will seek legal relief.

The author of the legislation now said lawmakers should look at stopping not just government, but businesses from mandating shots for employees.

“I think everything should be on the table during this unique and unprecedented time, because what we have here is a workforce issue to begin with,” said State Senator Danny Burgess.

The idea isn’t sitting well with Cruz.   

“Taking local control away from people that believe in science is a little bit ridiculous,” said Cruz.

Lawmakers are likely to move cautiously, as some the state’s biggest employers, including Disney, have already mandated shots. 

“I think that’s a moving target. I think conversations will be had,” said State Senator Manny Diaz.

Wednesday’s presentation did show hospitalizations and deaths declining. If the trend continues, the political appetite for tougher sanctions against governments and businesses may wane as well.

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