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DeSantis calls out Leon County as he announces a deal with Republican legislative leaders ahead of a special session to ban vaccine mandates

Pictured here is governor Ron DeSantis.
Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo
In this April 30, 2021, file photo surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

Governor Ron DeSantis has reached a deal with Republican leaders ahead of a special legislative session to ban vaccine mandates and the governor cited Leon County as an example of policies he wants to avoid.

"We thought that SB 2006 covered police and fire but you know, we had Leon County who fired a bunch of people. We’ve had others say they’re going to do it. I think they’re wrong on that law, I think we’d win in litigation. But we’re going to make it even clearer on that," DeSantis said, referring to a law approved last year that was intended to prevent vaccine mandates.   

Leon County fired 14 employees. It did not fire any unvaccinated police or firefighters but did let go of some EMS staff. That’s because police and firefighters are employed by the city. The move has resulted in the state fining the county $3.5 million for its policy, sparking a lawsuit.

DeSantis, along with Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have rolled out bills that would prevent local governments like Leon from forcing employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Private businesses couldn't issue blanket COVID-19 vaccine mandates without allowing for certain exemptions, like ones for existing medical conditions, religious preferences, and prior infections.

“We want people to be able to make informed decisions for themselves. But we’ve got to stop bossing people around. We’ve got to stop the coercion. We’ve got to stop trying to brow-beat people," said DeSantis, during his Monday morning press conference at a Pasco County business.

The proposals also include letting parents sue school districts and recoup costs if districts push mask mandates or quarantines. The DeSantis administration has been embroiled in lawsuits over district mask mandates. Several districts are appealing a recent decision by an administrative law judge that sided with the state saying a Florida Department of Health rule on masking "strikes a balance" between the rights of parents to make healthcare choices for their kids and the needs of districts to keep kids safe.

DeSantis has been pushing back against vaccine mandates in general. Florida is suing the federal government to block new rules from the Biden administration that requires businesses with 100 or more employees to issue vaccination requirements and to do similarly to healthcare entities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.

The Florida legislature convenes next week to take up the proposals. DeSantis expects no Democrats to vote for the bills.

In response to Monday's announcement, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book said in a statement, "'Floridians deserve freedom -- but only if you think like we do.' That's the message broadcast by Florida's GOP leaders this morning as they propose legislation to strip business owners and local governments of the freedom to decide what's best for their workers and their communities. This proposed legislation not only inhibits that very freedom, but also dangerously threatens the safety of workers and communities by handicapping hospitals and healthcare facilities who are reliant on federal funding to keep our communities safe as well as stripping protections from workers with the abandonment of OSHA."

OSHA is the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which issued the rules around private employee and healthcare mandates. Florida wants to withdraw from OSHA and create a state-run entity. The proposal would need approval from the federal government.

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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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