TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The special session challenging vaccine mandates is over and four bills aimed at reigning in those requirements are headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for signature.
The legislation would prevent private businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs or natural immunity.
What You Need To Know
- Florida House and Senate approved measures to curb COVID-19 vaccine mandates
- More than 200 health care workers made their voices against the vaccine heard Tuesday
- Democrats tried to pass an exemption Tuesday for hospitals, but it failed
- PREVIOUS STORY: Medical freedom or political stunt? At Special Session, it depends on who you ask
The vote Wednesday night capped a short session in which Republicans were all but certain to pass the bills.
The most contentious measure would prevent private businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear.
The state health department, which is led by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who opposes mandates, will be tasked with defining standards for the exemptions.
The measure also includes fines for businesses that fire a worker without allowing the exemptions. Additionally, it bars schools and governments in the state from having vaccine mandates and allows parents to sue schools with masking requirements. Another bill would block the public release of records regarding state investigations of vaccine policies in businesses.
Republican leadership said they are proud of the result of the special session and that they are ready for a legal battle with the Biden administration.
“So if Gov. DeSantis gets the opportunity to sign the bill we’ve sent him this week, it will be the law in Florida for all businesses,” said State Rep. Chris Sprowls, the Florida House Speaker. “We will continue to have to litigate OSHA to its entirety. I believe as I’ve said before that we’re going to be successful.
“It’s a sweeping unprecedented use of OSHA. I believe it is totally unconstitutional. I think the court has temporarily agreed with us, hopefully that will continue but I think it will and if there’s other issues we’re going to have to litigate along the way. But this week this will be the law of the land here in the state of Florida.”
Democrats have repeatedly slammed the legislation as dangerous to the public and burdensome to businesses. They also said the special session amounts to political theater meant to serve DeSantis’ political ambitions.
Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, District 48, said: “I’m exhausted, Floridians are exhausted from COVID, we know that.”
Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes thinks this is a worthy fight.
"Having standardized measures by which individuals can go to their companies and say, 'I have a religious exemption, I have a medical exemption, I had COVID before,' I think those are appropriate.“
However, Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz believes the enforcement of these new rules could further divide Floridians.
"They’re going to put 800 (phone) numbers everywhere and tell each other to turn people in if they’re out of compliance. I can see it now," Cruz said. "Some ex has been turning in his ex-wife‘s business. This is not the Florida or the America that we all had in mind.“
The legislation would, among other things, bar private businesses from having coronavirus vaccine mandates unless they allow exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, proof of immunity based on a prior COVID-19 infection, regular testing and an agreement to wear protective gear. The proposals would also let parents sue schools over mask requirements and stop schools and governments from having vaccine mandates.
The legislation also provides funding to study how the state could leave OSHA.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.