DeSantis signs vaccine, mask bills into law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday designed to protect Floridians from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and allow parents to make healthcare decisions for students.

The Florida Legislature passed the bills Wednesday in a special session and immediately went into effect, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“I told Floridians that we would protect their jobs and today we made that the law,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed COVID mandates and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida. I’m thankful to the Florida Legislature for joining me in standing up for freedom.”

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The bill signings come a day after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it will abide by a court order that it “take no steps to implement or enforce” a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for workers at companies with more than 100 employees.

“The mission of this special session was to ensure that the law reflects the values of liberty in our state,” Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said in a statement. “Floridians are now protected in their jobs, at school and as parents to choose how to protect themselves from COVID-19.”

The governor’s office released the following summary of provisions in the bills:

Private employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates are prohibited.

  • Employees can choose exemptions on numerous grounds, including health, religion, pregnancy, and past recovery from COVID-19. 

  • Employees can choose to opt for periodic testing or PPE as an exemption. 

  • Employers must cover the costs of testing and PPE exemptions for employees. 

Employers who violate employee rights will be fined.

  • Small businesses (99 employees or less) will face $10,000 per employee violation.

  • Medium and big businesses will face $50,000 per employee violation.

Government entities may not require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.

  • Educational institutions may not require students to be COVID-19 vaccinated.

  • School districts may not require face masks.

  • School districts may not quarantine healthy students.

  • Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney’s fees.

The City of Gainesville and Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) will now deal with the implications surrounding the new legislation.

In August, the Gainesville City Commission approved a vaccine mandate for city employees, but in September a court issued an emergency injunction to block it. The same court upheld the injunction on Oct. 29.

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted to fully comply with the current Florida Department of Health and Department of Education COVID-19 rule at a special meeting on Nov. 10. The decision followed months of back and forth battles between SBAC and the state over mandatory masking policies.

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