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Gov. DeSantis calling for special legislative session to fight vaccine mandates

"Your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots," the governor said Thursday at a news conference in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Florida Gov. DeSantis has vowed to "exhaust every legal option we have" to fight COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

During a news conference Thursday in Clearwater, the governor said he plans to call for a special legislative session to discuss policies that would protect Floridians' right to choose whether they want to get vaccinated against the virus. At the same time, DeSantis says Florida will sue the federal government, opposing its push for mandatory vaccines.

According to DeSantis, the proposed legislation would include a law preventing local governments from requiring their employees to get the vaccine.

He also proposed legislation that would make businesses liable for any adverse medical reactions an employee experiences as a result of the COVID shot.

The final proposed legislation relates to the governor's ongoing battle with school districts over coronavirus protocols for students in the classroom. He plans to introduce a measure allowing parents to collect attorney's fees if they win a lawsuit against a school district over the matter.

DeSantis repeatedly expressed his support for employees that face termination from their jobs for deciding not to get vaccinated. 

"Your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots," the governor said.

Attorney General Ashley Moody and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo joined DeSantis for his announcement in Pinellas County, where the governor was surrounded by a crowd of cheering supporters as he continuously vowed to "protect their freedoms."

Democrats immediately accused DeSantis of playing politics with an eye toward a presidential bid, stifling the ability of businesses to protect themselves and undermining mask and vaccine mandates that they contend have led to lower COVID numbers.

“Now we are attacking these policies that got us to this point,” State Rep. Ramon Alexander said. “We’re trying to take two steps forward and the governor is putting us in the past year to take those back.”

“We, the Floridians, elected him to be governor of Florida and not to play these politics and be so focused on his own ambition,” State Rep. Fentrice Driskell added.

Critics also question whether the call for a special session is premature since it’s not yet clear what the federal government may or may not do when it comes to vaccine mandates. For example, they said, there could be alternative options like regular COVID testing. \

“It’s all going to cost money for the state,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, “but it’s also going to lead to potentially frivolous lawsuits that businesses will have to face.”

The governor’s call for a special session in November seemed to take state representatives from both political parties by complete surprise. 

So far, no specific date has been announced. 

Despite the governor's legislative moves, data shows vaccine mandates are effective in containing the virus, according to doctors.

"Generally, the vaccine mandates tend to work very well. You never get 100% of the population who's going to get vaccinated, but if you're over 90%, the virus just doesn't have enough people to infect and it can't ever get a foothold to get going. That's really where we want to be," said Dr. Tom Unnasch with USF Public Health.

In Tampa, Sept. 30 was the deadline for all city employees to get vaccinated. And on Oct. 1, Mayor Jane Castor's office said compliance among the 4,700 workers rose from 40 percent in August to 70 percent.

While city staff says they have exceptions to mandate, which make their vaccine requirement legal, DeSantis continues to threaten cities with vaccine mandates with fines up to $5,000 per violation.

One county in Florida has already been slapped with a $3.5 million fine by state health officials for requiring its employees to get COVID-19 vaccines and for firing 14 workers who failed to get the shots.