TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — This Monday, Florida lawmakers returned to the state's capital for a special legislative session aimed at combating the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The Biden administration's sweeping new mandate will apply to 84 million workers at mid-size and large companies.
Private-sector companies with 100 or more workers must require their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested for the virus weekly and wear masks while on the job. The requirements will take effect on Jan. 4, 2022, under an emergency temporary standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
A separate rule requires workers at health care facilities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid payments to be vaccinated.
In addition, a separate mandate will impact nearly 4 million federal workers who must be vaccinated by Nov. 22.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he plans to "exhaust every legal option" to fight the mandate during the state's special session. The governor has repeatedly expressed his support for employees that face termination from their jobs for deciding not to get vaccinated.
Over the course of the next five days, state senators and representatives will mull over a handful of bills that have been filed. Here are some of the issues they will cover.
Vaccine mandate bans
One of the first bills filed (HB 1B/SB 2B) would ban vaccine mandates for local governments as well businesses unless employees are allowed to be exempt for medical or religious reasons. The other opt-out option private businesses have at their disposal to circumnavigate the ban would be if an employee had a previous COVID-19 infection or if they agreed to regular testing and wearing protective equipment.
If companies with more than 100 employees impose a mandate without the correct exemptions, they can face fines up to $5,000. Businesses with less than 100 employees can face $10,000 fines.
Workers who have been fired for refusing to take the vaccine can also be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Another bill (HB 3B/SB 4B) will further protect employees from mandates by blocking information on medical and religious exemptions from any investigation done by a business. While another measure (HB 7B/SB 8B) prevents state health officers from imposing vaccine mandates and quarantines entirely.
Removing Florida from OSHA
Many of the federal rules behind the federal mandate are being carried out by OSHA. That's why lawmakers are proposing taking a step towards removing the state from OSHA entirely.
That measure (HB 5B/SB 6B) would have DeSantis' administration create a plan to set up the state's own workplace safety enforcement agency – $1 million would be set aside for the project. However, final approval of those plans would ultimately lie with OSHA. The entire process could take years.
DeSantis' lawsuit against Biden
While it's not one of the bills being discussed, the lawsuit the governor and Attorney General Ashley Moody filed against the Biden administration over its vaccine mandate plays a large role in why DeSantis decided to call for a special session.
In the lawsuit, both DeSantis and Moody argue the mandate impedes Florida's employment policies and threatens the state's economy.
In addition to Biden, DeSantis and Moody are filing the lawsuit against NASA, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and officials within the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense.
Although according to doctors, data shows that vaccine mandates are effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19, Moody called the federal mandate "a complete and gross overreach of the federal government into the personal autonomy of American workers."
The lawsuit states "because the government’s unlawful vaccine requirement seeks to interfere with Florida’s employment policies and threaten Florida with economic harm and the loss of federal contracts, the State seeks relief from this Court."
A White House official sent the following statement to 10 Tampa Bay regarding the lawsuit:
"This is a once in a generation pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 700,000 Americans, and the President has committed to pulling every lever possible to save lives and stop the spread of the virus. Vaccine requirements work: they’re good for workers, good for the economy, and good for the country. The President has authority to protect the federal workforce and promote efficiency in federal contracting in this way. The Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have already determined that COVID vaccines can be required by employers."