BRANDON, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed four bills Thursday meant to hobble coronavirus vaccine mandates in Florida.
The governor spoke at a car dealership in the Tampa suburb of Brandon for the bill-signing event.
The GOP majority was able to pass all four of the bills Wednesday evening during a special session that was called by the governor last month.
Republicans have maintained that the bills will protect workers from recently-announced federal mandates.
The governor called the new Florida laws the "strongest pro-freedom, anti-mandate action taken by any state in the nation."
The laws state the following:
- Private Employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates are prohibited
- Employees can choose from numerous exemptions, including but not limited to, health or religious concerns; pregnancy or anticipated future 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 these employee health protections 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 have school face mask policies
- School districts may not quarantine healthy students
- Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney's fees
Jupiter labor attorney Cathleen Scott said employers and employees shouldn't be left with their heads spinning over these new laws.
"It certainly is not a law that says that vaccine mandates are illegal. I think that is very important to say out loud. It does not do that," Scott said.
Scott said the new laws provide exemptions to employers.
"It says you can have a vaccine mandate, but you need to add these additional exemptions to the list of exemptions already out there," Scott said.
Multiple speakers at Thursday's event shared their stories about how they lost their job or faced termination due to shot requirements.
"At the end of the day, nobody in Florida should be losing their jobs over these jabs," DeSantis said. "We want people to be able to work. We want people to be able to provide for their families."
Watch the news conference below:
President Joe Biden announced the mandate in September when he unveiled his six-pronged plan to combat COVID-19 in the U.S. this fall.
In the meantime, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced over the weekend that they would abide by a court order to not take further steps to implement the new rule, which would require large companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or regular testing among their employees.
Attorney General Ashley Moody also announced Thursday the state is suing the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate.
The governor's choice for the bill signings in Brandon was an apparent jab at Biden after the slogan "Let's Go Brandon" became a way of insulting the president among right-wing circles.
When asked about his choice for signing the bills in the Tampa suburb, he dodged the question.
"I think Brandon, Florida, is a great American city. I think the people here are fantastic," DeSantis said.
The governor contends that these new laws are meant to protect the freedoms of Florida residents in what he perceives as federal overreach.
"The states are the primary vehicles to protect people's freedoms, their health, their safety, their welfare in our constitutional system," DeSantis said. "What Biden is doing is not constitutional. There has never been a federal vaccine mandate imposed on the general public."
He said the special session for the new bills was a good use of taxpayer money since the mandates were set to take effect in January.
"If we waited until the regular [legislation] session, we would have had thousands and thousands of Floridians lose their jobs over heavy-handed mandates," DeSantis said. "If you think saving people's jobs is a waste of taxpayer money, heck, that's like page three of the governor's manual to save people's jobs."
State Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, estimated that each day of the three-day special session ended up costing taxpayers about $72,000.
State Democratic leaders have rebuked the new state laws, saying the policies are more about furthering the governor's agenda than protecting Florida workers.
"Today, the Governor and GOP leaders celebrated the creation of the DeSantis Ambition Tax, which will cost Florida businesses millions of dollars and make everyone less safe," said Policy Chair State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. "They have denied Florida businesses the ability to protect themselves, their workers, and their customers. This will endanger us, our visitors, our economy, and our reputation as a safe place to bring your family. Governor DeSantis is robbing Floridians of the freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe."
Scott said it is very likely that the new Florida laws will be challenged by the federal government.