Separating workers for COVID violations is becoming more difficult now that Governor Ron DeSantis signed a set of four bills Thursday that put new limits on vaccine mandates.
DeSantis signed the legislation into law at a car dealership in Brandon, an unincorporated community in Hillsborough County, a decision likely stemming from the People’s Republic phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” as an alternative to an expletive directed at President Joe Biden.
“We make sure that people have the right to earn a living,” DeSantis said. “We respect the individual freedom of the people in this country.”
DeSantis considered the new laws a political victory, but they fall short of what lawmakers originally pushed to pass and what supporters who testified at committee hearings wanted.
Democrats have criticized the special session called by DeSantis to pass the bills, calling it “political theater” designed to aid DeSantis’ re-election chances next year and prepare him to run for president in 2024.
Senator Randolph Prause, R-Fla., stated, “Instead of fighting for access to education, health care, and safe communities, he has bullied lawmakers into encouraging government overreach and putting small businesses at risk—all at the expense of hard-working Florida residents.” .
The main bill, HB 1B, prohibits local governments from imposing vaccines on employees. For private companies, any vaccine requirements for workers must include exceptions for religious or medical reasons. Any worker who has had COVID-19 before, as well as anyone who agrees to get regular COVID-19 tests and wear protective clothing is also exempt.
Some proponents said the bill did not go far enough because it still allows for mandates for vaccines.
Representative Anthony Sabatini, Republican of Howie in the Hills, said the same thing, but went further in his House floor debate on Wednesday, calling on Florida to “vacate” Biden’s executive order imposing a vaccine requirement on businesses with more than 100 businesses. Worker.
Another point of contention for backers is that the new law expires in June 2023 and does not help workers who were already subject to vaccine requirements by private companies. Disney, Central Florida’s largest employer, requested that its workers be vaccinated earlier this year after negotiating with its unions.
Biden’s order, which came in the form of a rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this month, was one of the main reasons DeSantis went to the special session. The rule calls for companies with more than 100 workers to require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with exceptions for medical or religious reasons, or if the worker agrees to weekly testing and mask disguise.
DeSantis has already sued the rule but wanted to move forward with new state laws restricting vaccine mandates. The rule has already been temporarily suspended by a federal court in a separate case, and DeSantis said he believes it will eventually be overturned.
Moody and DeSantis are also challenging another federal vaccine authorization rule that applies to federal contractors, and on Thursday announced a lawsuit against a third rule, which applies to health care facilities such as nursing homes that face the loss of Medicare and Medicaid funding if their workforce is not immunized.
Large business lobby groups and legislative leaders have not aligned with DeSantis’ call to strip liability protections against COVID-19 claims away from companies mandating a vaccine.
DeSantis called for the safeguards in the 2021 legislative session and signed them into law earlier this year, saying they are needed to help give businesses assurance against the flow of COVID-related lawsuits and help Florida’s economy recover from the pandemic. But DeSantis said he felt “stabbed in the back” when some companies began imposing vaccines on workers.
If a worker’s exemption is denied and he is subsequently fired, he can file a complaint with the Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody, which will then investigate the lawsuit. The business will have the opportunity to avoid the fine by returning the employee and repaying his wages.
Moody’s office is given $5 million to conduct investigations, and legislative leaders have said they can increase that budget if necessary when they return to their regular session in January.
Companies with more than 100 employees face fines of up to $50,000 per violation and companies with fewer than 100 employees face fines of up to $10,000.
Both DeSantis and Moody mentioned “Brandon” several times, drawing cheers from the audience.