Florida Legislature on Wednesday passed sweeping legislation that seeks to protect unvaccinated workers from federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The four bills were approved largely along party lines during a three-day special legislative session convened by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis against federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The bills now head to the Republican governor’s desk to be signed into law.
If signed into law, Florida will become the first state that issues financial penalties for businesses that require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, according to CNN.
The Republican governor has been a vocal critic of the vaccine mandates pushed by President Joe Biden.
Among the measures, private businesses would be blocked from imposing COVID-19 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.
It also prohibits Florida schools and governments from imposing 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.
“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.”
“It’s 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,” added GOP Rep. Erin Grall.
Democrats have criticized the legislation, arguing that they are not an attempt to “keep Floridians safe” but instead amount to political theater meant to serve DeSantis’ political ambitions
“Does this bill truly attempt to keep Floridians safe, or was it crafted to kick off a presidential campaign for our governor?” asked Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat.
DeSantis said in a statement on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon: “I look forward to signing legislation that will protect their jobs and the jobs of all Floridians who are facing unjust termination due to heavy-handed mandates!”
DeSantis on Oct. 28 announced that the state is suing Biden, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, and others over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employees of federal contractors.
“We have a responsibility to stand up to those requiring vaccine mandates, or new mandates will just keep coming,” said DeSantis of the lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court.
“We’ve gone from 15 days to slow the spread, to three jabs to keep your job. Are you kidding me?”
“We’ve been clear in the State of Florida that we want people to be able to work and provide for their families,” the Republican governor said at a news conference at the Florida Air Museum. “In Florida, you have an opportunity to earn a living, and it should not depend on these shots.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.