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Florida company DeSantis wants to give taxpayers money to defy vaccine regulations


And DeSantis, one of the leading Republicans to speak out against federal vaccine requirements, wants to go even further. He says his state can pay fines to businesses that don’t follow federal vaccine regulations – and he will do so with coronavirus relief aid signed into law by Biden.

“This is an important fight,” DeSantis recently told business leaders. “And it’s a fight we’re happy to be in.”

Just a few months ago, the majority of Americans lived in a state that offered people cash or other free gifts if they were immunized against the coronavirus. Democratic and Republican governors in more than a dozen states have launched raffles, promising immunized newcomers the chance to win $1 million in prizes and sometimes more.

But DeSantis’ push to use taxpayer dollars to compensate those who defy vaccine regulation is the latest example of rapidly changing politics around vaccines, and it could become a template for Other Republican leaders are seeking to accommodate the growing minority of Americans who have voiced their disapproval. to take a photo. DeSantis, a potential 2024 candidate and one of the most popular figures in his party, often sets the tone for other Republican governors in the pandemic response and political pushback. Biden rights.

If more states follow suit, it could stifle Biden’s sharpest tool – the threat of lost income – in his efforts to encourage vaccination. The growing resistance has created more uncertainty about the US response to the pandemic as an increasing winter spurts another wave of hospitalizations in the northern and mountainous west. Meanwhile, a new coronavirus variant, Omicron, has entered the United States, officials confirmed Wednesday, rattling markets and leaders.

Crystal Watson, a professor of public health risk assessment at Johns Hopkins University, is concerned that these states are giving people reasons not to get vaccinated and create safe havens for the virus at a time where the United States is facing the pandemic. .

“The more high-traffic we have in our communities, the more worrying variation we’ll see,” said Crystal Watson, a professor of public health risk assessment at Johns Hopkins University. “From a science perspective, from a public health perspective, creating support for people who aren’t vaccinated, that’s really damaging.”

‘You should encourage people to make the right decisions’

In the midst of Florida’s fast-paced special session on the immunization mandate last month, some Democrats took issue with lawmakers about redressing benefits for the unvaccinated. They note that five months ago, DeSantis, like many Republican leaders, cut emergency aid to the unemployed in an effort to kickstart the job market.

State Representative Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, introduced an amendment to ensure unemployment benefits go to workers who feel unsafe at work and quit for their employer. They do not require vaccination. In the Republican-dominated legislature, her amendment was rejected.

“They don’t even want to hear it,” Eskamani said. “These are also Republicans who say they want small government and let people decide for themselves. But you’re not just encouraging policies that are anti-public health, you’re rewarding them for it. that. You should encourage people to make good decisions.”

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw says it’s misleading to describe Florida’s new unemployment law as a taxpayer-funded incentive for the unvaccinated. She said the bill is clarifying what is already a law in Florida that makes an employee eligible for unemployment benefits if they are laid off due to an illegal policy. DeSantis signed a bill banning strict vaccine regulations.

“Most people want to keep their jobs and income steady, and that’s always the goal of the special session,” Pushaw said. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be fired for a personal medical decision to receive unemployment benefits that are often less than their previous earnings.”

The Biden administration declined to comment. Watson, a Johns Hopkins professor, said the new laws were “very inconsistent with the message that public health is sending out, based on science and evidence.”

“It’s really dangerous from that perspective,” Watson said.

After signing the Iowa bill, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds said in a statement that the issue of ensuring health decisions remained personal.

“I believe vaccines are the best protection against COVID-19 and we have provided Iowans with the information they need to determine what is best for themselves and their families,” Reynolds said. , but it shouldn’t force Iowans to lose their jobs or livelihoods through a COVID-19 vaccine. “

Carrots and sticks

Some studies show that state lotteries have made little difference in promoting vaccine hesitancy. By October, faced with stagnating vaccination rates, the Biden administration had turned from carrots to sticks.

Biden bets that most businesses will make mandatory vaccines for their workers if threatened with fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is believed that employees will ultimately choose a safe, effective vaccine rather than lose their jobs.

In some parts of the country, the idea worked as planned. More than 92% of the federal workforce received at least one dose of the vaccine after Biden made vaccination a condition for employment, the Office of Management and Budget said late last month. Many cities, including New York, have recognized vaccine regulations because of the dramatic increase in vaccinations among public employees.

But across the country, Republican leaders pushed back. According to the National Academy of State Health Policy, 11 states have either banned vaccinations or forced businesses and governments to waive them. For example, Florida made it so that almost anyone can get an exemption for religious or medical reasons, either through testing or by demonstrating a prior medical exemption.

The Biden administration, which has already faced regulatory obstacles over its vaccine mandates, is now taking account of widespread uncertainty in the business community about how to proceed. Last week, Disney announced it would stop mandating vaccinations for workers in Florida after DeSantis signed legislation requiring employers to grant exemptions from vaccinations.

Speaking from Air Force One last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Disney’s decision underscores how DeSantis has led the country in the wrong direction in its fight against the coronavirus.

“They’re based in Florida, and it’s clear that the governor there has been consistently taking steps to take steps backwards because it’s about fighting the pandemic, not moving forward,” Psaki said.

OSHA has halted enforcement of Biden’s new vaccine rule for private businesses with 100 or more workers after a federal appeals court halted implementation. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Missouri on Monday partially blocked another federal vaccination mandate for health care workers, and on Tuesday, a federal judge involved had similar action against Biden’s mandate for federal contractors.

The Biden administration has encouraged the companies to comply with the mandate while the courts deal with legal questions. DeSantis has urged Florida companies to do the opposite, or they could face fines of up to $50,000 for violating the new state law.

Even if the courts sided with Biden, DeSantis told the National Federation of Independent Business last month that he plans to fight any OSHA penalties.

“If it gets to the point where they’re trying to enforce, you know, my point is, non-compliance, and we’re going to support the legislature to take some stimulus money and use it to pay fines for businesses DeSantis said.

Pushaw said the idea was “an option” but added that it was “not necessary at this point” because of action by the federal courts to date. The US Treasury Department said it was monitoring all proposed spending of the COVID-19 relief fund and added that any program that undermines efforts to contain the spread of the virus will not be approved. permission.

DeSantis has also offered a $5,000 bounty to attract unvaccinated police officers to its state, though lawmakers must first approve it. While any officer who moves to Florida will be eligible for a bonus, regardless of vaccination status, he has specifically presented his proposal to police in cities where workers are mandatory. They must be vaccinated.

“If you’re not treated well,” DeSantis told Fox News in October, “we’re going to treat you better here.”

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