Florida Legislature Passes Anti-Vaccine Bills

November 17, 2021

Florida lawmakers moved ahead with bills that directly conflict with federal regulations requiring COVID-19 vaccine for most workers.

In a special vaccine session called by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, the Florida House voted Wednesday along party lines to approve House Bill 1 / Senate Bill 2. The bill, if signed into law, would fine businesses if they require workers to get vaccinated without allowing exemptions. DeSantis said he plans to sign the bills.

Democrats slammed the measures, calling the session “political theater” and noting that courts have repeatedly held that federal law preempts state actions. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a temporary, emergency order requiring companies with 100 or more employees to vaccinate workers or require masks or weekly testing for the virus.

“This bill creates a tug of war between the state and federal government with our health workers being the rope that is pulled back and forth,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando. His amendment to exempt health care companies from the requirements was defeated, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper and the Legislature’s website.

Other bills that passed the Legislature Wednesday included HB 7B, a measure to take away the power of the Florida Surgeon General to order vaccinations during a public health emergency; and HB 5B, to withdraw from the federal OSHA aegis and set up a Florida workplace safety agency.

Another bill exempts from public records laws any complaint made to the state attorney general’s office over alleged violations of the vaccine mandate requirements until the investigation is completed. Public records exemptions require a two-thirds vote in each chamber to pass.

A fourth action would ban school districts from passing mask mandates, and prohibit governments from enacting vaccine requirements for public sector employees.

The measures fall short of the more extreme measures that DeSantis had asked for. Lawmakers did not enact a blanket ban on vaccine mandates in the workplace and the bills do not apply retroactively to businesses that have already laid off employees who refuse to get vaccinated, according to news reports.