Employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates were voted by the state Legislature to be considered illegal effective immediately, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a series of laws Thursday after a special session.
Employers who violate what the governor called “health protections,” would be fined $10,000 per employee for small businesses (99 employees or fewer). Medium and big businesses would face a $50,000 fine per employee.
The laws run counter to President Joe Biden’s new OSHA policy. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure all workers are either fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly.
Under the new Florida laws:
- Governments may not require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone;
- Schools and universities may not require students to be vaccinated against the virus;
- School districts may not have face mask policies and may not quarantine healthy students;
- Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney’s fees.
“I told Floridians that we would protect their jobs, and today we made that the law,” DeSantis said in a news release. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed COVID-19 mandates, and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida. I’m thankful to the Florida Legislature for joining me in standing up for freedom.”
Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, made her case in support of the bills that passed. She did so on the house debate floor and on the anniversary of her being sworn in for her first two-year term. She followed Republican party lines against the Democrats, which dictated how the votes went: 78-39 in the house and 24-14 in the senate.
“I am personally vaccinated,” Persons-Mulicka told Gulfshore Business. “The choice that I and my husband made was in the interest of our families. But for those Floridians who that is not the right choice for them and their families, we will do everything we can in the state of Florida to stop the Biden Administration from coming between hard-working Floridians and their jobs.
“I felt the emotion of not only my situation, but of the situation of millions of others across the state of Florida. It was a special honor to stand up and fight for the freedom of our Floridians.”
The dueling laws should lead to multiple lawsuits, said Mike McQuagge, an attorney and founder of the McQuagge Law Firm in Fort Myers.
“There are so many hurdles,” McQuagge said of enforcing either the Biden Administration’s policies or the new Florida laws. “We don’t even have an organization to police this yet.
“The reality is everybody was happy in Brandon, yesterday. They were doing a victory lap on this. But the litigation that is going to transpire on this thing? It’s going to end up in the Supreme Court. It’s going to have to go all the way. When you think about the timing perspective, how long would it take to get to the Supreme Court? I don’t have that answer.”
The state laws also could be questioned as running counter to Article 6 of the United States Constitution. The “supremacy clause,” as it’s referred to, prohibits the states from enacting laws that run counter to those set by the federal government.
McQuagge called the new Florida laws a “skeleton piece of legislation.” He said there were too many issues to make the new laws run smooth. Such as Florida-based companies that do business in other states.
“What are you going to do with that?” McQuagge said. “Who are the watchdogs going to be? Now, everybody’s in this limbo period. Do I follow Joe? Or am I going to listen to Ron? I’m not trying to pick one side or the other—Democrat or Republican. I’m still walking the middle line on it and see what the courts say.”