Florida legislative leaders not concerned about state-federal conflicts over COVID-19 vaccination requirements
One question that's come before Florida lawmakers as they meet this week is whether businesses will have to choose between following a proposed state policy governing coronavirus vaccination requirements or a federal rule.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a rule on Nov. 4 requiring workers at businesses with 100 employees or more to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4. As part of the state’s efforts to block the rule, Gov. Ron DeSantis called lawmakers into special session to adopt policy that would give workers more ways to opt out of getting vaccinated.
The special legislative session is scheduled to end on Thursday, but it could last through Friday.
Among the bills under consideration would expand vaccination exemptions for private sector workers beyond what the federal OSHA rule allows.
Here are those exemptions under the proposal:
- Medical reason, could include pregnancy or planning to become pregnant
- Religious reason
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and face shields
- Submitting regular negative COVID-19 tests
- Showing proof of a prior COVID-19 infection
A federal judge recently halted the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health administration rule requiring workers at businesses with 100 employees or more to get vaccinated. The rule allows an exemption for those who submit weekly negative COVID-19 tests. It also doesn’t force the employer to pay for those tests. The rule requires workers who aren’t vaccinated to wear a face covering.
The federal order halting the rule from taking effect came after Texas, Mississippi, Utah and South Carolina took the federal government to court. Florida, Alabama and Georgia have filed a separate lawsuit challenging the rule.
State House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-District 65) says his message to businesses is that they “are under no obligation to follow the OSHA rule” as long as the federal injunction remains in place. “Right now, the OSHA rule is not in effect.”
Republican lawmakers say they believe the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately find the OSHA rule unconstitutional and overturn it.
“We believe that when this works its way up to the Supreme Court it will be deemed unconstitutional,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-District 10).
Simpson argues that the federal vaccination mandate infringes on “state’s rights.”
“Certainly it’s left to the states to do that work, and that’s what we’re doing today,” he said. “We’re setting up a Florida policy.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule was issued in October. It was issued on Nov. 4.