DeSantis vows to protect jobs at special session

The agenda for a special session of the Florida Legislature next week focuses on job protection, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Monday.

Topping the list is prohibiting private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines. For employers that do have a vaccine policy, the governor will ask the Legislature to exempt those with health or religious concerns, pregnant women and those who anticipate pregnancy, and employees who have recovered from COVID-19. 

“Employers must provide ALL EMPLOYEES the option to choose periodic COVID-19 testing or PPE as an alternative to vaccine requirements (at no cost to employees)—test frequency to be determined by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH),” the statement says. 

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The agenda says the governor also wants the Legislature to prohibit government entities from requiring vaccinations of employees, including educational institutions, and exempt students from being required to wear face masks.

“Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney’s fees,” according to the statement.

If the Legislature passes the provisions, DeSantis called for fines of $10,000 per employee violation per small business violation (99 employees or less) and $50,000 per employee violation for medium and big businesses.

The plans would put Florida at further odds with the federal vaccine mandate President Joe Biden announced in September. Last week the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidelines to implement the mandate, but over the weekend an appeals court issued an injunction to stop it. Florida is one of several Republican-led states that have sued the federal government in challenge of the OSHA rules. 

With FDA approval of a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, DeSantis also took aim at schools, saying students cannot be required to take the vaccine. The statement also said that school districts may not quarantine healthy students and that students and parents “may sue violating school districts and recover attorney’s fees.

Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) is already challenging the state over similar policies implemented in the state’s emergency health rule. On Friday Deputy Chief Judge Brian Newman of the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) ruled the “Florida Department of Health is the state agency with the authority to adopt rules governing the control of preventable communicable diseases in public schools.”

But ACPS said it plans to maintain its current COVID-19 mitigation strategies while it and six other school districts appeal the decision and continue to challenge a Department of Health (DOH) emergency rule Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued on Sept. 22.

Last week an Alachua County judge ruled against the City of Gainesville’s vaccine mandate when she upheld an earlier injunction.

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