Florida GOP limits vaccine mandates, mocking White House
Tallahassee Florida. Florida Republicans approved a sweeping bill Wednesday to block corporate coronavirus vaccine mandates, rejecting claims that they were sacrificing public health to give Governor Ron DeSantis a victory in his battle against White House rules for the virus.
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled statehouse scrambled the measure, along with a package of virus-related bills, after hours of wrangling in which Republicans asserted they are protecting workers from onerous mandates by the federal government.
If you want to get vaccinated, you can get vaccinated. “If you don’t want to get a vaccine, you can choose not to get a vaccine,” Republican Senator Danny Burgess said. “That’s the whole purpose of this bill, to trust the people of Florida and to allow us to make that choice ourselves.”
DeSantis, a Republican, called a special legislative session on vaccine mandates as he launched a legal and media campaign against vaccine mandates pushed by Democratic President Joe Biden. The governor has become a star in the Republican Party through his opposition to lockdowns and other virus rules, bolstering his profile as he runs for reelection and eye a possible presidential election in 2024.
Wednesday night’s vote capped a short session in which Republicans were almost certain to pass the bills. The most controversial measure is to prevent private companies from obtaining mandates for vaccines unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs or immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing, or an agreement to wear protective clothing. The state health department, led by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladabo, who opposes mandates, will be tasked with setting the criteria for exemptions.
The measure also includes fines for companies that fire a worker without allowing exemptions. Additionally, it prevents schools and state governments from obtaining vaccine mandates and allows parents to sue schools for anonymity requirements. Another bill would block the public release of records relating to state investigations into companies’ vaccine policies.
“It’s surprising that most days you think it’s okay for someone else to make the health care decision about whether or not to vaccinate, and that your employer will make a health care decision for them,” said Representative Erin Grall, a Republican.
Democrats have repeatedly criticized the law, calling it dangerous to the public and burdensome to businesses. They also said that the special session amounts to political theater meant to serve DeSantis’ political ambitions.
“Is this bill really trying to keep Florida residents safe, or was it set up to start a presidential campaign for our governor?” asked Representative Angie Nixon, a Democrat.
Separately, lawmakers passed a bill to prevent a state health official from mandating vaccinations during a public health emergency. Republicans also approved a bill directing the state to begin considering withdrawing from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has drafted White House vaccine requirements for companies with more than 100 employees.
Florida—along with more than two dozen other states led by the Republican Party, employers and many conservative and business organizations—sued the OSHA rule and has since stood by a federal court. The state has also sued another White House mandate that requires COVID-19 vaccines for federal contractors.
During the debate, Democratic Senator Shivrin Jones expressed the frustrations his party has been feeling since the hearing.
“Let’s call this exactly what it is, and that’s the governor’s direct challenge to the president and the federal government, and that’s the only reason we’re here now,” Jones said.
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