Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a host of state representatives dug their heels in vowing to protect Floridians from being required by their employers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We are going to stand for the men and women who are serving us," DeSantis told a cheering crowd of about 250 in Newberry on Monday. "We're going to protect Florida jobs. We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate."
Monday's event at Clark Plantation came just over a month after the Gainesville City Commission voted to require all city employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The move sparked a lawsuit from 200 city employees who oppose the mandate.
When DeSantis arrived Monday, he had just left a press conference celebrating UF's new No. 5 ranking among public universities and joked to the crowd that, "Now if you could only cap the week off by beating Alabama .. then everything would be good in the world."
But DeSantis got right down to business declaring why he and the state representatives and first responders were there.
"You don't just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully over this—a personal choice," he said. "We've seen places like the City of Gainesville basically said 'We're going to fire you unless you take a vaccine.'"
DeSantis talked about recently signing SB 2006, a bill that prevents private businesses and government agencies from requiring vaccination proof.
"If a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition of employment, that violates Florida law," he said. "And you will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation."
He said the City of Gainesville's policy for requiring vaccines would rack up "millions and millions of dollars in potential fines."
DeSantis invited a Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) employee, a Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) firefighter, a City of Gainesville employee, and a firefighter from Orange County to speak about facing termination if they don't get the COVID-19 vaccine.
GRU employee Darris Friend said he started with the city in 1999. He is eligible to retire in 1.5 years and faces termination and loss of pension if he refuses the vaccine.
"No one should tell you what to put in your body," Friend said.
GFR paramedic Jonathan Cicio said that first responders strive to "do the right thing."
"Many of us have natural immunity because of exposure," he said. "We are not anti-vaccine, we are anti-mandate."
DeSantis said President Joe Biden's announcement of a vaccine mandate for federal employees is unconstitutional and may lead to a mass exodus of employees from health care, transportation and government agencies.
"We are fighting back against the Biden mandate as well," he said. "Nobody should lose their job over this issue."
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody reiterated DeSantis' position.
"This is about, very simply, how much power do our government officials have when we have never given them that power to do something like this," she said. "You have city officials saying they are going to fire employees if they don't take a vaccine. It is unlawful, it is directly contradicting Florida law."
Moody said the safety of Floridians is at stake if first responders get fired and if a mandate causes some to quit.
"As your attorney general, I am standing up for the over 200 employees that have risked their jobs and they have bravely filed suit against their city saying 'You will not fire us for making our own personal medical decisions.'"
Moody then turned to the first responders who spoke and said: "You now have the attorney general and the state of Florida in your corner. We'll be making those arguments and defending you guys and standing with you all along the way."
After the state's chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis spoke, U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, whose district includes Alachua County, came to the podium dressed in orange and blue.
"I am your voice in Washington, D.C.,'' she said. "I'm also Nancy Pelosi's least favorite member of Congress."
Cammack, who is married to a firefighter, blasted efforts to force first responders to take the vaccine or face termination. Cammack emphasized that the vaccine and monoclonal treatment sites are readily available for all Floridians, but she said the government has "zero authority" to mandate a vaccine.
"I will use my power as a member of Congress to ensure that any locality that infringes upon an individual's freedom of personal medical choices will no longer receive federal funding," Cammack said as the room erupted in applause and cheering.
Cammack also said she will work to dismantle authority given to OSHA and other agencies to enforce Biden's "unconstitutional order." She also said she was working on tightening HIPAA laws and encouraged first responders to persevere.
"Do not quit," she said. "We will fight, and Go Gators."