TAMPA, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law a series of bills that passed through the House and Senate late Wednesday night. The bills aim to hamper coronavirus vaccine mandates in businesses.
DeSantis signed the bills at Brandon Honda on Thursday morning. He spoke alongside Attorney General Ashley Moody, Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson and several others.
“I could have washed my hands of it, and said it’s their fault or their fault, but that’s not leadership. Leadership means you get in there and you do what you can to stand by people," said DeSantis.
Florida's Surgeon General expressed his concerns over Floridian’s right to freedom of choice over their bodies.
“You control your body, it doesn’t matter how many times that you don’t get to make that decision, it is your body," said Dr. Ladapo. "God gave it to you, it’s your body. You know?"
After DeSantis signed the bills, Representative Andrew Learned (D- Brandon) issued the following statement: “If the Governor really cared about Brandon's families he wouldn't be imposing a COVID tax on our small businesses and healthcare heroes. I'd remind the governor that divisive childish politics is what lost him, and former President Trump, Brandon last November for the first time in more than 25 years."
The first bill, HB 1B and Senate Bill 2B give students, parents, workers and employees in Florida opt-out options when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The bill says people can be exempt from getting the vaccine based on physician, physician assistant or advanced practice registered nurse approved medical reasons, religious reasons, immunity based reasons based on a prior lab documented COVID-19 infection, an agreement to periodically test, or PPE protection provided by the employer.
The House bill was sponsored by Representatives Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) and Ralph Massullo (R-Lecanto).
Representative Grall said, "House Bill 1B will ensure Floridians are not subject to an overreaching federal mandate that requires them to choose between a vaccine and providing for their family. It will empower parents to make the best health care choices for their children.”
Senate bill sponsor Senator Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) said, “This bill appropriately balances the rights of individuals to make their own health care decisions with the authority of employers to regulate workplaces. No one should lose a job because of a vaccine mandate. A nurse who cared for COVID patients when we were all safe at home should not be let go because of a mandate the White House said would not be coming. This legislation inserts some common sense into the confusion and contradictions we have seen coming out of Washington by giving workers more options to stay safe on the job and honoring the rights and responsibilities of parents.”
State Senator Janet Cruz, a Democrat who represents District 18 said, “They’re probably going to overrule our amendments. The special session was so unnecessary and when I talked just the other day to the president of a major health plan, he said you know we’re kind of left here figuring out what we do. We have the federal mandates we have to follow, and now we have the state mandates that the governor is trying to impose upon us and we’re trying to figure out what we do, how we do this?”
House Bill 3B or Senate Bill 4B says any medical and religious information stored in a file created during an investigation where an employer refuses to abide by the above bill, and give individual COVID-19 vaccine exemptions, would not be public record.
House Bill sponsor Representative Massullo said, “House Bill 3B protects Floridians from public release of personal medical or religious information who allege their employers violated Florida’s COVID-19 policies and practices. Preventing disclosure of this information will help protect them from harassment or discrimination if they lose their job because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.”
Senate Bill sponsor Senator Burgess said, “This bill respects Florida’s long, proud tradition of open records and open government, while ensuring that sensitive employee information remains confidential. Florida respects the dignity of work, and employees who have been wrongly fired should have the ability to make a complaint without worrying about their personal health and religious information becoming public.”
House Bill 5B or Senate Bill 6B allows the governor to look over options that would allow Florida to take over responsibility for its own workers’ occupation safety and health issues, Republicans say its the first step in developing a proposal to withdraw from OSHA, or the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
House Bill sponsor Representative Ardian Zika (R-Land O’Lakes) said, “Forced firing of Floridians is not the Florida way. This bill takes the first step toward developing a proposal to withdraw from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and to assert state jurisdiction over occupational safety and health concerns for Florida employers. It puts Florida in the right posture to explore the options available to ensure the safety of our workers.”
Senate Bill sponsor Senator Travis Hutson (R. St. Augustine) said, “We respect the proper role OSHA plays in monitoring workplace safety. Unfortunately, over the last few months OSHA has been weaponized by the Biden Administration not to protect workers, but to institute an unprecedented and unconstitutional nationwide vaccine mandate. This legislation makes it clear that Florida will not stand for such an egregious, unlawful overreach by the federal government, and instead we are taking the first step toward asserting state jurisdiction over occupational safety and health issues.”
And lastly, House Bill 7B or Senate Bill 8B says the state Surgeon General would no longer have the authority to mandate vaccinations.
House Bill sponsor Representative Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) said, “Floridians are worried by the expansion of executive power we’ve seen from the Biden administration and many local officials. It’s an honor to work with Speaker Sprowls and Governor DeSantis to reaffirm for Floridians that we will always stand up for the individual rights of the people we serve.”
Senate Bill sponsor Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) said, “Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis and the Legislature, Florida has been a beacon of hope, and we intend to keep it that way. This bill makes our laws even more clear that Florida stands as a refuge for families and businesses who want to live in freedom. No surgeon general has ever used this authority, but this bill takes the extra step to make it clear that no matter what the future holds, vaccines will not be mandated in Florida.”
Cruz said, “We have a governor that has proposed $5 million of taxpayer money to create a policing force that goes out and makes sure that his political theater rules and regulations are being enforced. What does that really mean? You have a gentleman who’s owned a barbershop in a neighborhood for 25 years and maybe he’s compromised health-wise and he has a mask on and maybe he asks someone else to put a mask on because he’s working very close to someone what happens? Do they come in and slap them with a $5,000 or $10,000 fine? I mean come on. This doesn’t make sense.”
Other House Democrats have weighed in:
“The slate of bills the Governor signed today represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of Floridians. We should not obstruct employers from implementing COVID-19 safeguards that protect employees and customers alike. This is an onerous regulation on our small businesses that not only puts Floridians’ health in danger, but will hinder our economic recovery,” said Representative Susan Valdés.
“It is a sad day for Florida today. These bills will not protect the people of Florida but rather make them less safe. Businesses have stated they don’t want these bills either. There are real issues impacting Floridians and instead of addressing any of those issues, such as the affordable housing crisis, we spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a politically motivated special session in the midst of a pandemic,” said Representative Marie Woodson.
“Businesses are trying to survive during the ongoing pandemic and the Governor, with the support of the Republican Legislature, is hampering their operations. The bills from the Special Session are anti-business and engaged legislators as extras in the Governor’s sideshow to boost his profile as he hopes to become President," said Representative Geraldine Thompson.
This comes as the Justice Department vows to defend the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate. That rule applies to all businesses with 100 employees or more. A federal appeals court temporarily blocked it last weekend with concern over whether it was constitutional.
OSHA has suspended its enforcement of the Biden Adminstration's new rules after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the mandate. President Biden says he will continue to move forward.