The bill targeting President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements for private employers, which allows certain exemptions for medical and religious reasons, would impose fines on businesses with mandates that don’t comply with forthcoming state guidelines. The Associated Press reported that the state health department, led by Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, a Covid vaccine critic, will determine what qualifies as an exemption after the legislation is signed into law.
The other three measures passed by the legislature would move the state away from Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight; shield Covid-related complaints from the public eye; and remove the authority of state health officials to order vaccinations during a public health emergency.
State Democrats excoriated the measure and argued the session was an attempt to boost DeSantis’ national profile.
“If you want to get a vaccine, you can get a vaccine. If you don’t want to get a vaccine, you can choose not to get a vaccine,” said GOP Sen. Danny Burgess, according to The Associated Press. “That’s the entire purpose of this bill, trusting Floridians and allowing us to make that choice for ourselves.”
In largely party-line votes, the GOP-led legislature passed several bills taking aim at various coronavirus restrictions in a special session called by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has waged a public battle against mask and vaccine mandates. He is expected to sign all four measures passed by the statehouse.
The bill also bars schools from requiring students to be vaccinated or wear masks. In late October, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s lower-dose Covid vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
“Does this bill truly attempt to keep Floridians safe, or was it crafted to kick off a presidential campaign for our governor?” said Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat, according to the AP.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DeSantis called for the special legislative session in October — and released the agenda last week — in defiance of Biden’s rule requiring large companies ensure their workers are vaccinated or regularly tested. Enforcement of the administration’s rule, slated for Jan. 4, was recently put on hold by a federal appeals court. DeSantis, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has consistently opposed Covid restrictions at the state, local and federal level. He has prohibited mask mandates and banned businesses and government agencies from requiring proof of vaccination. Florida also sued the Biden administration over its vaccine mandate for federal contractors, arguing the president overstepped his legal authority.
Dartunorro Clark covers politics, including the Covid-19 recovery, for NBC News.