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Florida Democrats cast a skeptical eye on the vaccine special session

(file photo)

Florida’s GOP-led legislature is trying to curb vaccine and mask mandates as Gov. Ron DeSantis escalates his fight with the federal government over the issues. The legislature has reconvened in a special session this week to pass a series of bills this week.
Democrats like Sen. Tina Polsky are questioning the message Republicans are sending with the bills.

"What message are we sending about ending this pandemic if we are not promoting, suggesting, and encouraging vaccines?" Polsky said during a media availability with Senate Democratic leaders.

"Here we are giving license to people for many, many reasons to opt-out of getting a vaccine and I think it’s the exact opposite approach we should be taking.”

The DeSantis administration is suing the federal government over rules for businesses and nursing homes. Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskoll calls the session a “political stunt” and notes one of the most high profile proposals—a plan to establish a state-run agency to oversee workplace safety — would cost millions of dollars and take years to happen.

"It doesn’t make sense," Driskoll said of a proposal to withdraw the state from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and establish a state version. "It’s costly, and because of the timing of it all, Governor DeSantis will be long gone…as we know he has ambitions for 2024 and running for president.”    

DeSantis’ name has been floated as a potential 2024 presidential contender. The governor has filed to run for re-election in 2022.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz also weighed in on the session, noting that it was not something asked for by business and that DeSantis' initial call for it even took his fellow Republicans by surprise.

“The business community does not want this. They want the ability to protect themselves, their customers, and their employees. This call for a ban on vaccine requirements endangers their workers, and bottom line, and risks Florida’s reputation around the world as a safe place to bring your family. Vaccines keep Florida’s workforce safe and working which keeps our economy running. A healthy Florida is a prosperous Florida, full stop."

Democrats have been vocal about their disapproval, but that is not stopping Republican leaders from pushing ahead with their proposals.

Those proposals include stripping the state health officer of the power to mandate vaccines and banning local governments and school districts from issuing similar mandates. School districts would be unable to require students to wear masks without allowing parents to opt-out. Businesses could issue mandates but would have to allow several exemptions for employees. The proposals could put some businesses, especially in the healthcare sector, in the precarious position of having to decide whether to follow state or federal law.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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