Gov. DeSantis to call special legislative session to draft new COVID laws in vaccine, business fight

Pinellas County

At an event in Clearwater, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody announced a series of legal actions to combat federal vaccination requirements and protect Florida’s federal employees who may not want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, particularly as a condition of employment.

“We’re here to announce that we need to take action to protect Florida jobs,” DeSantis aid.

State leaders are fighting back against an OSHA vaccination requirement and a federal mandate for employees of the U.S. Government, which includes contractors for industries such as space, according to the governor.

DeSantis said if they don’t comply, they lose business, so the governor and attorney general will be contesting the rule in court.

He said it has an impact on thousands of workers in the state, and promised to also fight back against threats to Medicaid and Medicare funding for those who are not vaccinated and hospitals that receive funding from CMS, the federal department that administers Medicaid and Medicare, due to vaccine rules.

The governor also took a swipe against businesses that are using vaccinations as a requirement of employment, even when workers file for religious exemptions. DeSantis said this goes against state laws, such as SB 2006 which bans vaccine passports and levels $5,000 fines for each individual violation.

To handle some of the legal challenges that have arisen from the vaccine fight, DeSantis said the state legislature would be called for a special session to work on legislation to deal with it.

This would be the second special session called following the 2021 session, which ended in April. The previous special session came up to handle the state’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“We’ve provided probably the strongest COVID liability protection in the country very early on,” DeSantis said. “To now see some of those businesses who were complaining about potential liability turn around and want to fire employees over these injections, I kind of feel like they’re stabbing us in the back after we were standing up for them. And so, we’re going to be pursuing a number of protections for employees. First of all, if anyone has been forced to do an injection and has an adverse reaction that business should be liable for any damages…I also think this COVID liability protection that was given, the minute you go and start mandating, that liability protection is going to go by the wayside for each individual business that makes the decision to fire people to do that.”

The governor said businesses are not honoring religious exemptions to vaccine requirements, and that the state would act to correct some of these issues through the legislature.

“In Florida, your right to earn a living is not contingent upon whatever choices you’re making in terms of these injections,” DeSantis said.

He promised that for those who do not want to be vaccinated, the state will support your choice. DeSantis also promised not to pass an edict as governor, and to work through legislation instead.

“I don’t think we can wait until next year,” DeSantis said about calling the special session as federal vaccine deadlines approach for contractors and employees. “As we bring the legislature back to provide protections for Floridians for their jobs, I think it’s also important that we fortify parents’ rights related to some of the things we’ve been seeing going on.”

DeSantis said that while the state has been “winning” in court regarding the mask and vaccination rules, he believes the legislature needs to go back and give the law “more teeth” and strengthen the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

The governor had a few Florida residents who have been impacted by vaccine and mask requirements and other COVID-19 issues speak. Some were workers who lost their jobs over refusing to vaccinate for COVID, some were patients who had been saved by Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment after contracting the virus. Some parents spoke in support of the governor’s protections for the right to choose mask usage in schools.

A battalion chief from Orange County Fire Rescue, who was reportedly terminated for not enforcing COVID-19 vaccinations, spoke about the situation at his station for refusing to issue reprimands over vaccination status.

The chief, Stephen Davis, said he was fired. He says he was given a list of personnel to give reprimands to, even when some had alleged medical exemptions, some were vaccinated, and some had simply refused. The list, according to Davis, did not distinguish between them.

“I came in after a vacation day, I came into work and was given a list of individuals,” Davis said. “I looked at the list and I asked questions. I asked my leader, can we confirm these things? Can we confirm that these people should be on this list? Personal conversations with several of them, I already knew they had medical exemptions. I had personal conversations with several of them who said they had the vaccination. And yet, I was ordered to give them reprimands. To me, this violated more than just a law, this violated their own civil rights. This violated the trust that these men and women have served over the last year and a half in the front lines.”

Davis said he was brought in and relieved of duty that same evening. He said a friend sat with him, gathered information, and the next day was challenged. Written reprimands were pulled back, and leadership said they would wait to “figure it out.” A week later, Davis said he was terminated, but he remains grateful for the support of his family, a wife and two sons, and the “army behind him” of the crowd present at the event.

Those in the crowd held signs reading “Freedom has a home here” with a symbol for the state of Florida emblazoned with an American flag.

Davis thanked the governor for his support before ceding the podium back to DeSantis. Then, AG Moody spoke about the legal battles to come regarding contractors and other federal employees, as well as the threats to Medicare and Medicaid funding from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“I am proud to say today that we have taken action in Orange County to stand up for those first responders and we have filed a brief in court to proudly stand with you,” Moody said. “And you will always have an attorney general and governor that has your back.”

Moody said that there were currently workers who had been required to upload documents proving vaccination status across the U.S. and in Florida, and that the state would “push back against” federal mandates that they call unlawful. She criticized the state of the economy as prices rise and “unprecedented” losses of jobs in industries across the country, including law enforcement.

The attorney general’s criticism continued, taking shots at the “unprecedented” nature of the current situation, which had been mentioned by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, but saying that “of course” there wasn’t a precedent due to a lack of historical mandates for federal vaccination.

Moody promised to always protect Floridians’ freedoms, before the governor again criticized the federal mandates.

“There’s a lot of things that are unprecedented now,” DeSantis said. “These mandates we’re seeing now unfortunately, this is not the end of what they’re ultimately trying to do.”

The governor took shots at California’s recent vaccination requirements for school children, and promised it was something that would not happen in Florida, and that the choice by parents to vaccinate would be protected by the state’s government.

Ladapo spoke next.

“It’s just an unbelievable time in the country,” Ladapo said. “It’s almost like you wake up each day and you wonder at what new unprecedented policy step some leader, in unfortunately California a state that I lived in and really enjoyed a beautiful state, or even at the executive level with the president, is coming out with and we don’t know what’s coming next.”

Ladapo said that what state leaders were talking about at this event were “extreme policies” that were put in place without “making sense” or asking what the implications of the policies may be. Referencing stories of nurses and pregnant women being forced to “put something in their bodies that we don’t know all there is to know about yet,” he said they were working to learn more about the safety of vaccines.

Ladapo said 10 months later, despite earlier claims of preventing transmission, the vaccines for COVID-19 data is showing that the protection from infection “is less than 40 percent and even less for some of them.” He said “we were foolish” for not believing people critical of the vaccines and said that people should trust their intuition.

8 On Your Side has reached out to the Florida Department of Health to review the data Ladapo is referring to regarding vaccine transmission protection and its efficacy against COVID-19 infections.

Criticizing the “science of vaccine mandates,” Ladapo said that the reduction of transmission was questionable and that creating safe work places through vaccine mandates was “decoupled” because infection can still occur, referring to breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals. He said the breakthrough cases were common, not rare.

“This idea that the vaccines are needed to create, that vaccine mandates are needed to create safe workplaces, is a complete lie,” Ladapo said. “It’s not backed up by science.” The state surgeon general called for a more open and honest discussion about vaccinations, saying the lack of transparency was adding to vaccine hesitancy in the state and promised to “work like hell” to help Floridians.

Governor DeSantis spoke again, saying that the state’s mission was clear.

“Nobody should have their right to earn a living conditioned on receiving injections, mandated injections,” DeSantis said. “We need to make sure that folks are able to succeed and thrive in the state of Florida. And of course, we have a responsibility to stand up for these important constitutional freedoms, stand against federal overreach, and then make sure that our economy is able to function.”

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

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