Story at a glance
- Florida begins a special legislative session today that will tackle how businesses and schools can and cannot enforce vaccine mandates and mask rules.
- Businesses would have to allow vaccine opt-out options, including COVID-19 testing, prior COVID-19 diagnosis, current or potential pregnancies and more.
- Schools would also not be allowed to enforce mask wearing or a COVID-19 quarantine process.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is continuing his fight against COVID-19 mandates and beginning a special legislative session today that will expand on his aggressive approach throughout the pandemic to restrict vaccine mandates in Florida.
DeSantis has been cracking down on mandates throughout 2021, signing a series of executive orders that prohibited COVID-19 passports, prevented schools or local governments from closing and banned schools from requiring masks. DeSantis announced he would not be allowing vaccine mandates in Florida earlier this month, despite President Biden’s implementing a federal vaccine mandate.
During a press conference, DeSantis said, “We’re going to be saving a lot of jobs in the State of Florida. We’re going to be striking a blow for freedom. We’re going to be standing up against the Biden mandates, and we’re going to be better as a result of it.”
Now the governor is starting a special legislative session that will consider policies that expand on the state’s strict mandates.
The agenda states that Florida lawmakers will focus on policies that prohibit private employers from mandating a COVID-19 vaccine with penalties that vary by business size. Small businesses, defined by those who have 99 employees or less, would face a $10,000 fine per employee violation. Medium and big businesses would face a $50,000 fine per employee violation.
However, the agenda warns that those employers who do have a vaccine policy must afford certain exceptions, such as allowing employees with health or religious concerns to be exempt from any vaccine requirement. Pregnant women or women who anticipate pregnancy are also exempt. Employees who have recovered from COVID-19 are also exempt, and employers must provide all employees with a test-out option, able to take periodic COVID-19 testing or personal protective equipment (PPE) as an alternative to a vaccine requirement.
Any COVID-19 testing and PPE would also be provided at no cost to employees. Government entities would also be banned from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.
Florida’s special session goes beyond tackling how businesses can handle COVID-19 vaccinations and also plans to set parameters for what school districts can do.
Education institutions may not be able to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and school districts may not be able to require students to wear face masks. School districts also wouldn’t be able to implement a quarantine system. Lastly, the special session will consider allowing students and parents to sue any school districts violating the law and recover attorney’s fees.
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for the governor’s office, told The Hill in an emailed statement that, “We support the proposals and draft legislation our partners in the legislature have put forth, and we look forward to working with them to get this across the finish line. No Floridian should lose his or her job over COVID shots, and no one has more authority over a child’s upbringing than his or her parents.”
Florida has already begun fining businesses across the state for violating its ban on COVID-19 passports, with more than 100 businesses being investigated. Some of those companies include AT&T, Live Nation, Royal Caribbean cruise line, Starbucks and Disney Cruise line, among a variety of other Florida businesses and counties.
One Florida county was fined $3.57 million for 714 counts of violating the state’s ban on vaccine mandates. The county has challenged the fine and is awaiting a decision by a Florida judge.
According to The New York Times COVID-19 tracker, Florida has reported more than 3.6 million total cases of COVID-19 since Jan. 21, 2020, and experienced more than 60,000 deaths. The state has 60 percent of its population fully vaccinated, with 70 percent having received at least one dose.
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