DeSantis calls special session to battle mandates

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he will call a special session of the Florida Legislature to provide protections for employees threatened with job loss due to vaccine mandates.

DeSantis, who was joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody and Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo at a news conference in Clearwater, said he would fight the federal vaccine mandates to protect Florida families and jobs.

“Your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots,” DeSantis said in a statement. “When the vaccines first came out, we worked very hard to provide it, particularly to our elderly, but we said from day one: we will make it available for all, but we will mandate it on none because ultimately we want individuals to make the determinations about what is right for them.

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DeSantis said mandates should not threaten jobs.

“I want a state in which people are able to maintain their livelihoods, earn a living, and provide for their families,” he said. “And if the federal government or big corporations are hurting people, then we have a responsibility to step up and lead.”

In September, President Joe Biden laid out a six-prong plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including mandatory federal vaccinations that would reportedly affect as many as 100 million Americans, according to an Associated Press estimate.

Locally, more than 200 city employees sued over Gainesville’s mandate after the city commission approved it in August. Judge Monica Brasington of Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit, who is overseeing the lawsuit, recently ordered attorneys for both the City of Gainesville and the plaintiffs to provide her with more information before ruling on the city’s motion to lift her current injunction.

“Condemning Americans to financial instability is detrimental to the well-being of this country and to public health,” Ladapo said. “The governor has made it clear: Florida will not stand by and allow hard working citizens to be subjected to unemployment because they are being forced to show vaccine documentation, especially those who have remained on the front lines of COVID-19 for nearly two years now. The Department of Health will continue to protect Floridians through multi-faceted and data-driven solutions, not overreach.”

On Sept. 13 DeSantis spoke at a rally in Newberry and vowed to protect Floridians from employer vaccine mandates. In an effort to combat the COVID hospitalization spike in July and August due to the delta variant, DeSantis had dozens of monoclonal treatment sites opened throughout the state to treat people early after testing positive and prevent flooding of area hospitals.

In his press release, DeSantis also is “asking the Florida Legislature to provide greater protections to parents to manage the health care decisions of their children, including the freedom to opt their children out of mask mandates.”

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) is among six school districts that continue to fight DeSantis’ executive order issued on July 30 that stated any district would be fined if they ordered mask mandates. The SBAC has been involved with litigation from both parents and wage garnishment from the Florida Department of Health concerning the mandates since the start of the school year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states that COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of infection and its potentially severe complications but also states that some people who are fully vaccinated will still get sick, although the vaccine will protect them from severe illness.

A date has not been set for the special session.

DeSantis released a list of proposals he is giving to the Florida Legislature to add protections to what is already in law.

  • If someone is fired from their job for refusing an employer-required COVID-19 vaccine, then that person should be eligible for reemployment assistance.
  • If someone has an adverse medical reaction from an employer-required COVID-19 vaccine, then that person should be eligible for workers compensation coverage.
  • If an employer fires someone based on an arbitrary COVID-19 vaccine mandate, then the employer should not receive the benefits of current COVID-19 liability protections.
  • If an employer fires someone solely based on COVID-19 vaccine status, then that business may not enforce a non-compete agreement against the employee.
  • Employers must provide notice to employees of religious and health exemptions. Fired employees should have a right to sue if employers fail to provide such notice.
  • DEO shall establish a program to connect employees terminated based on COVID-19 vaccine status with other employment opportunities.
  • Reaffirm that government entities, including school districts, may not fire any employee based on COVID-19 vaccine status. Violating government entities should be held accountable.

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