TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A week ahead of a previously announced COVID-19-focused special legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Zephyrhills about his anti-vaccine mandate policy goals for the Nov. 15 gathering of lawmakers.
DeSantis was joined in Zephyrhills by Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and House of Representatives Speaker Chris Sprowls at the Bahrs Aluminum and Construction on Gall Boulevard, as well as various members of law enforcement and airline staff and pilots who spoke about their disapproval of the federal vaccine mandates.
Still, while the tone of the conversation around vaccination has shifted, the state leadership and the supporters gathered with the governor Monday morning have emphasized that they are anti-mandate, not anti-vaccine.
“No cop, no firefighter, no nurse, nobody should be losing their job because of these jabs – we must stand up for people and protect their jobs and livelihoods,” said DeSantis. “What the federal government is doing is wrong. It is wrong to kick people out of work; it is wrong to try to micromanage businesses; and it is wrong to deprive key industries of people that we need. Most importantly, what they are doing is unconstitutional and we have a responsibility to stand up for the Constitution and protect Floridians.”
The official position of the governor has remained that the choice to be vaccinated is personal, not a decision for governments to make for individuals. The emphasis on choice over mandate was echoed by supporters who spoke at the event.
“I am a single mom and I have been a flight attendant for 31 years with a major U.S. airline,” said Lisa Williams, a flight attendant for 31 years. “I am here as a representative of Airline Employees for Health Freedom, a group of over 2,000 of my coworkers who are suing our airlines for unreasonable accommodations of indefinite unpaid leave in lieu of taking the vaccine. We are not anti-vaccine, we are anti-mandate. My employer has done everything possible to prevent folks like me from exercising our rights to protect our faith and our medical autonomy.”
The governor also spoke about efforts by the state to encourage law enforcement officers and first responders from out of state to move to Florida amid the state’s protections for personal health choices instead of vaccine mandates and orders by other state governments.
Previous efforts by the state legislature were made to protect businesses from liability if COVID-19 affected workers. Now, as some businesses are requiring employees to be vaccinated, DeSantis has said he would remove those protections, should they force employees to take the vaccine.
Additionally, the special legislative session would seek to add further strength to the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a law passed in May, and the state’s current ban on so-called vaccine passports. The Florida Department of Health is currently investigating a list of businesses reported by Floridians for requiring proof of vaccination in violation of current state law.
As previously reported on WFLA, the following items are proposed protective goals for lawmakers to consider during the coming special session of the Florida General Assembly:
- If someone is fired from their job for refusing an employer-required COVID-19 vaccine, then that person should be eligible for reemployment assistance
- If someone has an adverse medical reaction from an employer-required COVID-19 vaccine, then that person should be eligible for workers compensation coverage
- If an employer fires someone based on an arbitrary COVID-19 vaccine mandate, then the employer should not receive the benefits of current COVID-19 liability protections
- If an employer fires someone solely based on COVID-19 vaccine status, then that business may not enforce a non-compete agreement against the employee
- Employers must provide notice to employees of religious and health exemptions. Fired employees should have a right to sue if employers fail to provide such notice
- DEO shall establish a program to connect employees terminated based on COVID-19 vaccine status with other employment opportunities
- Reaffirm that government entities, including school districts, may not fire any employee based on COVID-19 vaccine status. Violating government entities should be held accountable
Shortly after the session briefing in Zephyrhills concluded, the governor’s office released a list of more defined goals for the coming session.
In a section titled “Protecting Employees,” the state listed policy goals for the legislation as follows.
Private employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates would be prohibited. If there is a vaccine policy at the company, it must contain exceptions for:
- Employees with health or religious concerns are exempt from any vaccine requirement
- Pregnant women or women who anticipate pregnancy are exempt
- Employees who have recovered from COVID-19 are exempt
- Employers must provide all employees the option to choose periodic COVID-19 testing or personal protective equipment as alternatives to vaccine requirements, at no cost to employees. The test frequency would be determined by the DOH
For employers who violate these “employee health protections,” the state is seeking legislation that would:
- Fine small businesses, businesses with fewer than 100 employees, $10,000 per employee violation
- Fine “medium and big businesses” $50,000 per employee violation
Additionally, government entities would be unable to require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees, according to the document from the governor’s office.
In a separate section titled “Protecting Families,” the governor’s office highlighted the following goals of the legislative session:
- Educational institutions may not require students to be COVID-19 vaccinated
- School districts may not require students to wear face masks, nor may they require healthy students to quarantine
- Students and parents may sue school districts that violate these protections and recover attorney’s fees
During a question and answer session at the Zephyrhills event, DeSantis briefly acknowledged that he had filed his paperwork to run for re-election as Florida’s governor, calling it “more of a formality.” The paperwork was filed on Nov. 5.
When asked about making a formal campaign announcement, the governor told reporters to “stay tuned,” and that an announcement would not come until after the special legislative session.
Read the full document on the coming special session released by the governor’s office below.