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Attorney weighs in on whether Gov. DeSantis can fine local governments requiring employees to be vaccinated

A local attorney said under the current statute, he doesn't believe it gives the governor the authority to fine local governments who mandate vaccines for employees.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. β€” On Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis commented on the threat he made Monday to fine city and county governments that require their employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

He announced Monday the state would fine local governments $5,000 per employee it requires to get vaccinated against COVID.

RELATED: 'That violates Florida law' | Gov. DeSantis lashes out at cities requiring employees to get vaccinated

"I think this idea of using government coercion and force, one, is going to backfire," DeSantis said. "I just don't think that that decision should be used to cast aside people who served our communities for years and years and years.”

The threat comes from the law DeSantis signed in May prohibiting businesses and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination to "gain access, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity's operations in this state."

"Statutes that create fines or penalties have to be strictly construed," Tad Delegal, a local labor and employment attorney, said.

Delegal said he doesn't think this statute gives the governor the authority to fine local governments who mandate vaccines for employees.

β€œIt says a government entity may not require persons to provide any documentation regarding COVID vaccination to gain access to entry upon our service from the governmental entities operations in the state. It doesn't say anything about employment," Delegal said.

Gainesville, Orange County and Leon County passed requirements that their employees get vaccinated or will be fired, with religious or medical exemptions. 

"My view is you stand by the folks that have stood by us. Not every decision, they make maybe the same decision I would make, but at the end of the day, I just think it's fundamentally wrong to cast people aside, ruin their lives, or hurt their families and take their jobs," DeSantis said.

According to Delegal, employers have the right to mandate that employees get vaccinated. They also have the right, he said, to fire employees who don't comply, unless it violates a valid religious or disability accommodation. 

The governor's statute coincides with President Joe Biden's announcement requiring all employers with 100 or more employees require the vaccine, or require unvaccinated employees to show a negative test result once a week. 

"I think it creates a lot of thorny issues," DeSantis said about Biden's announcement.

Delegal said the president's emergency rule falls under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA doesn't include local governments, but it does include private businesses, and trumps state law, he said.

"He [DeSantis] cannot restrict private employers from requiring that [vaccine mandates] if there's an OSHA standard," Delegal said.

According to Delegal, if DeSantis changed the wording of the statute, he'd most likely be able to fine local governments who require vaccines for employees.

The governor's current statute is set to go into effect Thursday. We asked local governments about it and the threats of fines. St. Johns County's spokesperson said the COVID vaccine isn't required for its employees, and they don't have plans to mandate it. First Coast News is waiting to hear back from other municipalities.