Ron DeSantis: Florida special session begins as governor continues fight against vaccine mandates

Turning that into law is now in the hands of Florida lawmakers, who return to the state capital on Monday for a special legislative session that specifically targets the issue.

If successful, Florida would become the first state to pass legislation penalizing businesses and hospitals that follow President Joe Biden’s efforts to attract the country’s workforce. Florida has been one of 26 states to take the Biden administration to court over its mandate to vaccinate private employers.

DeSantis has become one of the leading Republican voices against Covid-related missions. The first-term governor and hopeful 2024 future president has repeatedly opposed Biden over vaccines, face masks in schools and other pandemic policies, even as the number of deaths and hospitalizations soars in his state during the summer. And he has vowed to punish businesses that side with the Biden administration in this fight.

“We need to stop appreciating people around us,” DeSantis said last week. “We have to stop coercion. We have to stop bribing people.”

Asked about DeSantis’ comments, White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the President is focused on getting the country out of the pandemic.

“Why are these lawmakers, Republicans, getting in the way of that; getting in our way to make sure that the economy is doing well and coming out of this pandemic?” Jean-Pierre said. “And that’s the question for them.”

How far lawmakers are willing to watch DeSantis in this battle remains to be seen. The proposals put up for debate during the week-long special legislative session represented a significant decline in the hardline approach DeSantis sought when he first promised to take on the new mandate. by Biden.

After emerging as the epicenter of the Sun Belt’s summer coronavirus spike, Florida has seen a sharp drop in cases and hospitalizations and is now one of the places with low infection rates. the most in the country. Still, about 100 people die each day in Florida from the virus, which is about 10% of the nation’s daily deaths. The state recently passed 60,000 coronavirus deaths.


When the vaccine arrived, DeSantis was content to let businesses decide for themselves whether to entrust the vaccine to their workers. But the pressure on him to act grew after Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a 2024 fellow candidate, issued an executive order banning any entity from requiring a Covid vaccine- 19 and a fine of up to $1,000.

DeSantis’ change of immunization mandate prompted Democrats to accuse DeSantis of bigotry for his future political ambitions.

“A lot of this is being distorted for a political agenda,” said Democratic Representative Ben Diamond. “It’s clear that he’s preparing to run for president, and he has to appeal to a far-right extreme.”

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Following Abbott’s lead, DeSantis called for a vaccine ban in October, and he threatened to withdraw state protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits from companies that followed Biden’s order. . Such a bill could put some of Florida’s biggest and most powerful employers in a similar situation, including Disney, which has reached an agreement with its union workers to get it done. .

But Republican lawmakers, who control the state House of Representatives and Senate and rely on industries in Florida to fund their campaigns have so far been unsupportive of the idea. Other than mandated, bills under consideration would instead allow businesses to require vaccinations as a condition of employment as long as workers are allowed to opt out through medical or religious exemptions. or by submitting a regular check-up for Covid-19.

The Biden administration’s new immunization regulations also allow workplaces to offer testing as an alternative to vaccinations, giving Florida businesses some space to comply with the requirements. about federal vaccines and still avoid state penalties. Florida, however, will also offer waivers to those who can demonstrate “natural immunity,” though how that will be monitored remains to be seen.

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said the governor provided input on the legislation and was “satisfied” with the final outcome.

“Since the day he called the special session a few weeks ago, Governor DeSantis has been very clear about what he wants: No Floridian to lose their job for denying a COVID shot,” Puhsaw said. .

These measures will force many business leaders to choose between thousands of dollars in possible state fines and their personal beliefs about how best to protect their employees and customers in the future. dead time. The Republican-affiliated Florida Chamber of Commerce, which has criticized the Biden administration’s handling of vaccines, said it opposes “one size fits all government mandates” and said, “Consumers, employees and employers are in the best position to make these choices for themselves without any government intervention.”

The proposed law also puts health care providers in a difficult position. A separate vaccine authorization administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires healthcare facilities to authorize immunizations for staff without an alternative to testing, or at risk of losing funding. their federation.

Ten states are suing the Biden administration over these claims against health care workers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for 5th Street paused mandatory regulation for non-healthcare employees, although the Biden administration has urged businesses to continue with the regulations.

If hospitals, nursing homes and other providers follow the CMS rules, they could face hefty fines from Florida. Some have decided that skipping the federal mandate is not an option.

“Unless otherwise directed by the court, most hospitals will have no choice but to follow federal mandates to ensure that millions of Florida seniors and those in need,” said Mary Mayhew. vulnerable people who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have access to high-quality care.” , president and chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, which represents 200 hospitals in Florida.

Vaccination procrastination among Florida health care workers remains a major concern for public health officials. In a recent analysis, AARP found that vaccination rates among nursing home workers in Florida were the fifth lowest in the nation. More seniors live in Florida than in any other state outside of California.

Jeff Johnson, director of AARP in Florida, said he’s worried the proposed Florida law will slow vaccination efforts for these workers before the state faces another wave of cases or a variant. Future.

“It’s a concern and it puts residents at risk,” Johnson said. “We’re still fighting the final battle over vaccinations at a time when we really should be talking about how to make sure we have a booster for people who got vaccinated at the start of the year. ”

DeSantis has warned that nurses and other healthcare professionals will leave their jobs if they are forced to give injections at a time when the state is facing a shortage of frontline healthcare workers.

“If even a small fraction of them decide that this is not something they want to do and walk away, it will cause a lot of these health systems to bleed,” DeSantis said.

Florida’s new vaccine law, if it passes, could also face legal challenges. In addition to fines for businesses, Florida lawmakers are considering withdrawing from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency tasked with exercising Biden’s powers over businesses.

“Ultimately, the courts will have to figure that out,” said state Senator Jeff Brandes, one of the few independent Republican voices in the legislature.


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