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Florida House set for final vote on bills limiting vaccine mandates

'We have people's livelihoods on the line here,' Sen. Danny Burgess says
Posted at 6:10 PM, Nov 16, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Bills limiting vaccine mandates in Florida could be headed to the governor's desk before the end of the week.

During day two of Gov. Ron DeSantis' special session, the GOP majority was moving fast to approve the four bills in House and Senate chambers before Friday.

The policies seek to prevent local governments and businesses from enacting COVID-19 shot requirements for employees.

Rally against vaccine mandate held outside Florida Capitol, Nov. 16, 2021
A rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates was held outside the Florida Capitol on Nov. 16, 2021.

Other provisions include:

  • Investigating how Florida can withdraw from OSHA to avoid federal shot rules 
  • Stripping the state's health officer of vaccine mandate authority
  • Protecting the shot status of terminated employees from public record requests  

On the House floor, Democrats tried to water down the policies and redirect focus. Some added accountability, vaccine education requirements or unemployment aid for those helping sick loved ones.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, the caucus policy chair, has called the special session a distraction.

"Floridians are encountering real problems — whether it's gun violence, whether it's the affordable housing crisis, whether its property insurance rates being too high right now," Driskell said.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell speaks about legislative special session, Nov. 16, 2021
Rep. Fentrice Driskell says Florida lawmakers should be focusing on more important topics than rules against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Republicans, however, shot down all of the attempts to morph the policies. The House will now take a final vote on the legislation, Wednesday.

In the Senate, members finished up the last committee stop for their version of the bills.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami grilled Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, on the necessity of SB 2, which is identical to the anti-mandate bill in the House. It comes after the governor said earlier this month the state would offer businesses financial aid to offset any penalties for violating federal shot rules.

"If he will pay any business that is fined by the federal government, why are we here?" Pizzo asked.

Sen. Danny Burgess speaks about legislative special session, Nov. 16, 2021
Sen. Danny Burgess shares why he believes the special session is important to Floridians.

Burgess declined to answer in committee but summarized his view for us later in the afternoon.

"I think the bill is absolutely necessary because we have people's livelihoods on the line here," Burgess said. "We're trying to protect and balance the need to stay safe against the need to live on."

The Senate could be ready for its floor vote on Thursday. That's after the body considers another bunch of Democratic amendments, Wednesday. None are likely to be adopted.

The governor would get the bills soon after. He'll likely sign them as soon as possible.