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DeSantis calls for special session on vaccination requirements. Democratic lawmakers oppose

Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for a special session to push back against vaccination mandates at a press conference in Jacksonville on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.
The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for a special session to push back against vaccination mandates at a press conference in Jacksonville on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling on state lawmakers to meet early and pass legislation that would protect workers who refuse to comply with COVID-19 vaccine requirements and bolster the state’s efforts to fight those policies in court.

DeSantis announced the proposal at a press conference in Jacksonville on Thursday, about a month after President Joe Biden unveiled a requirement for all federal workers, including contract employees, to get vaccinated. The mandate, through the Occupational Safety Hazard Administration, also applies to companies with more than 100 employees.

“A lot of these deadlines are coming up between now and the end of the year,” DeSantis said. “Some of these people are going to get fired.” After the press conference, he called on the legislature to convene next month instead of waiting until the regular session begins in January.

“This would’ve been something that we would’ve done last legislative session if I honestly thought it was something that was going to get this far,” he said. “We would’ve made it a big priority.”

DeSantis is calling for legislation to guarantee jobless benefits to people who are fired for refusing to comply with vaccination requirements. He also wants policy that would strip away COVID-19 liability protections for businesses that put in place vaccination mandates. “The minute you go and start mandating, that lability protection is going to go by the wayside.”

He’s also proposing legislation that would make it easier for employees who have an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 shot to sue their employer for forcing them to get it. “If anyone has been forced to do an injection and has an adverse reaction, that business should be liable for any damages.”

DeSantis said the legislation is also needed to bolster his administration’s efforts to fight vaccine requirements in court. “We need to legislate, and we need to litigate.”

DeSantis is also calling on lawmakers to strengthen the parental bill of rights to fight mask mandates.

Democrats quickly blasted the governor’s call for a special session as a political stunt to help a possible presidential bid in 2024.

“I think this is a politically motivated and calculated move on behalf of the governor to promote his own ambitions for running for president,” said Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell.

“The motive is not about moving our state forward during the worst pandemic in modern world history,” said State Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) during a House minority caucus press call on Thursday. “It’s about controlling the narrative and playing to a political base.”

Democrats also criticized on the fact that DeSantis signed COVID-19 liability shields for businesses into law in March and is now threatening to rescind those protections. “Now a complete change of tune,” said Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani. “He wants there to be the opportunity for litigation based on businesses trying to follow science and do the right thing.”

Some local governments and businesses have already defied a statewide ban on vaccine requirements, which took effect over the summer, and fired employees who refused to get a COVID-19 shot.

In a joint statement issued hours after the press conference, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls backed up the governor’s calls for a special session. They also floated the possibility of withdrawing the state from OSHA. “We believe that by doing so, Florida will have the ability to alleviate onerous federal regulations placed on employers and employees,” the statement reads.

The OSHA requirement gives federal workers until Nov. 22 to get fully vaccinated, meaning they must receive their final dose by Nov. 8 or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests. Federal contract workers have until Dec. 8 to get fully vaccinated. New hires must show vaccination proof to gain employment after those dates.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.