Florida Limits Covid Vaccine Requirements, Challenging Biden’s Demands for Private Business

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is holding a press conference announcing the opening of a monoclonal antibody treatment center to help COVID-19 patients recover at Camping World in Orlando.

Paul Hennessy | LightRocket | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday aimed at abolishing President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine introduction and testing requirements for private businesses in Sunshine State.

DeSantis called a special session of the legislature to pass four bills challenging Biden’s policies. During a press conference on Thursday, the governor said the purpose of the law is to protect people from losing their jobs if they choose not to get vaccinated.

“In this state, we respect individual freedom,” DeSantis said at the Honda Auto Show in Brandon, Florida. “It’s a personal choice, it’s a science-based approach to say it should be a personal choice,” DeSantis said.

Florida laws prohibit businesses from introducing mandatory Covid vaccines unless they provide specific exemptions. They also require DeSantis to develop a plan to remove Florida from federal OSHA oversight and develop a state plan for worker safety.

OSHA, which oversees workplace safety for the Department of Labor, this month released workplace safety regulations that require businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees are vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid by January 4th.

According to Florida law, a company that fires employees on the basis of a vaccination order could be fined $ 10,000 for a violation if they have fewer than 100 employees and $ 50,000 if they have more than 100 employees. Companies can avoid fines if they reinstate an employee with a refund.

Biden’s policy does not require companies to fire employees who do not comply with the rules. The rules leave discipline to the companies. The White House has called on businesses to educate noncompliant employees about the importance of vaccinations and testing.

However, the Model Implementation Plans posted on the OSHA website list unpaid leave and layoffs as examples of the potential impact workers may face.

Labor Department chief attorney Sima Nanda said OSHA federal regulations supersede all state laws that prohibit businesses from complying with vaccination and testing requirements.

While Florida is permitted to develop its own state-level workplace safety plan, it must be submitted to OSHA for approval, and its workplace safety standards must be at least as effective as federal requirements, in accordance with with the law establishing OSHA.

Florida law requires companies to exempt employees from mandatory vaccination policies if they have immunity against Covid from a prior infection, periodically get tested for the virus, or choose to wear company-provided personal protective equipment.

“We’re getting to know people with natural immunity,” DeSantis said. “Regardless of what a private employer wants to do, you are automatically exempted from it due to natural immunity.”

People with genuine religious beliefs or medical conditions can also opt out of the company’s mandatory vaccination policy, although Biden’s policy already provides for exceptions in these cases.

According to Biden’s policy, people who have previously been infected with the virus cannot waive vaccination and testing requirements. They must either choose to be vaccinated or test negative for Covid weekly to get into the workplace.

OSHA said it decided not to exempt people who were previously infected and not vaccinated because scientific evidence is limited and employers cannot apply such an exemption. Agency cited study in Kentucky it found that previously infected unvaccinated people were 2.3 times more likely to be re-infected than people vaccinated after a previous infection.

Florida legislation limiting vaccine mandates came after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana suspended the Biden rule pending review. Twenty-six Republican attorneys general, including Florida, have filed lawsuits trying to overturn the claims.

The lawsuits were consolidated into one case by the conservatively minded Ohio Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit earlier this week. Private companies and national industry groups, including the National Retail Federation, the American Freight Forwarding Associations and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, have also filed lawsuits.

“The end result of OSHA’s lawsuit in the Sixth District is that this thing will crash and burn, it will fail. I’d be willing to put a lot of money into it, ”DeSantis said.

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