Lawmakers backtrack and move away from Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Lawmakers backtrack and move away from Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Florida lawmakers on Wednesday, November 17, passed a measure that could lead to the state taking responsibility for regulating worker safety and health issues and ending oversight by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Republican-controlled House voted 76 to 38 along nearly straight party lines to pass a bill (HB 5B) that directs Governor Ron DeSantis to lay out a plan for potential change. The Senate early Wednesday evening gave the final approval in a party-line 23-13 vote.

The proposal came after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) this month issued a COVID-19 vaccination rule that applies to employers with 100 or more workers. These workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative at least once a week and wear masks.

DeSantis and other Republicans argued that the rule would result in workers losing their jobs if they did not comply.

“Forcibly shooting Florida residents is not the Florida way,” House Pastor Adrian Zika, R-Land O Lakes, said Wednesday. “It is not the role of the government to pick and choose which employee will be fired.”

But as lawmakers advanced the bill, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it would comply with a Federal Appeals Court order to suspend the rule while legal challenges persist.

“While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergency situations, OSHA has suspended activities related to implementation and enforcement of (the rule) pending future developments in litigation,” the federal agency said.

The House and Senate vote came as lawmakers finished a three-day legislative session focused on combating vaccination mandates. Democrats said lawmakers should not have taken up the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue during the special session, because it is not urgent.

“This is a private hearing, and this law is not a private one,” Representative Ramon Alexander D-Tallahassee said.

Under the bill, DeSantis will have to report to the legislature by January 17 on efforts to put the plan together. Ultimately, the federal government will have to sign off on the state plan before it can move forward. Zika and Senate Pastor Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine said the process could take years.

If the plan goes ahead in the future, Florida will join many other states that regulate worker safety and health.

An analysis by the House of Representatives reported that 21 states and Puerto Rico operate plans that cover private and government employees. According to the analysis, five other states and the US Virgin Islands operate plans that cover government employees.

But the idea arose in Florida after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) passed the vaccination rule, which has been postponed after an order from the Fifth US Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Florida joined Georgia and Alabama in filing an appeal in federal court over the rule. That challenge was bolstered Tuesday with similar cases from across the country that will be heard in the Cincinnati-based Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals.

Representative James Bush, a Democrat from Miami, was the only Democrat to endorse the bill Wednesday, while other Democrats cited Republican political motives.

“If you’re trying to make a point, congratulations, you did,” said Representative Anna Escamani, Democrat of Orlando.

But Zika said Florida would be in a better position to oversee worker safety and health issues.

“Florida knows Florida better than Washington, D.C., would ever know Florida,” he said.

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