‘Vaccine passport’ ban hampers some Florida businesses

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida officials are fighting two legal battles involving the cruise industry, and one could impact the way all companies do business.

The state sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April, arguing it didn’t have the authority to impose restrictions on cruise lines that effectively shut the industry down for 15 months. Florida’s early success in that case has allowed cruise lines to return to Florida waters without requiring vaccinations, as prescribed in the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order.

But for businesses that want to require vaccines, a Florida law based on an executive order by Governor Ron DeSantis stands in the way.

Norwegian Cruise Lines is suing Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees over that law, which prevents businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. Last week, a federal judge granted Norwegian’s preliminary request to rule against the law, allowing the cruise line to require vaccinations on its Florida cruises, which begin again on Aug. 15.

That ruling on the preliminary injunction applies only to Norwegian, but a final decision on the case could affect all Florida businesses.

Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach is asking its customers to be vaccinated, but since the law prohibits requiring any proof, the bistro’s owner says they are forced to take customers at their word.

“My job is to make this space as safe as I possibly can for my family, staff, and patrons,” said Sean Murphy, the owner of Beach Bistro.

Other Florida businesses have expressed similar desire — so 8 On Your Side asked Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody why the state was imposing regulations on businesses who want the freedom to run their operations as they see fit.

“I’m not gonna speak for orders from the governor’s office, other than to say we’re not representing the governor’s office and that’s being litigated as we speak,” Moody replied.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office later wrote via email that “the surgeon general was directly sued in this matter and retained outside counsel, which is common,” according to Whitney Ray, the director of communications for the attorney general’s office. “Our office is neither a party to this litigation nor do we represent a party and as the attorney general stated it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

As Norwegian’s case against Rivkees makes its way through the court system, violating the statute could lead to hefty fines for businesses in the meantime. “The department may impose a fine not to exceed $5,000 per violation,” which the governor’s office previously told 8 On Your Side would be a per-passenger fine for cruise lines.

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