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Florida GOP limits vaccine mandates, flouting White House

Florida GOP limits vaccine mandates, flouting White House


Florida GOP limits vaccine mandates, flouting White House

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Republicans approved a sweeping bill Wednesday to hobble coronavirus vaccine mandates in businesses, rejecting claims that they were sacrificing public health to hand Gov. Ron DeSantis a win in his fight against White House virus rules.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled statehouse expedited the measure, along with a package of virus bills, after hours of debate in which Republicans maintained they were protecting workers from onerous mandates by the federal government.

“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 Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican. "That’s the entire purpose of this bill, trusting Floridians and allowing us to make that choice for ourselves.”

DeSantis, a Republican, called the special legislative session on vaccine mandates as he waged a legal and media campaign against vaccine mandates pushed by Democratic President Joe Biden. The governor has become a star in the GOP through his opposition to lockdowns and other virus rules, boosting his profile as he runs for reelection and eyes a possible 2024 presidential run.

The vote Wednesday night capped a short session in which Republicans were all but certain to pass the bills. The most contentious measure would prevent private businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear. The state health department, which is led by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo who opposes mandates, will be tasked with defining standards for the exemptions.

The measure also includes fines for businesses that fire a worker without allowing the exemptions. Additionally, it bars schools and governments in the state from having vaccine mandates and allows parents to sue schools with masking requirements. Another bill would block the public release of records regarding state investigations of vaccine policies in businesses.

“Its just mind-blowing most days to think that it is an acceptable position to hold that another person will get to make the health care decision about whether or not to be vaccinated, that an employer would get to make a health care decision for their employee,” said Rep. Erin Grall, a Republican.