ORLANDO, Fla. — In a move certain to invite another court battle over political power, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his administration planned to fine local governments that impose vaccine mandates on their employees.
“If a government agency issues a vaccine requirement as a condition for employment, that violates Florida law,” he said. “You will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation.”
Surrounded by firefighters and police officers who opposed vaccine mandates in Gainesville, he said the move would result in “millions” of dollars from places like Orange County, which announced a requirement in late July.
His announcement, though, is a broad interpretation of the law, SB 2006, which is commonly referred to as the “vaccine passport ban,” since it does not specifically forbid mandates as a condition for employment.
“A governmental entity… may not require persons to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity’s operations in this state,” the relevant portion of the law reads.
DeSantis’ key word: access.
“We will certainly move to impose the fines as the law requires when we see people denied access like this,” he continued.
It’s a noted shift from the governor’s earlier positions that tended to define access in a more literal sense: a taxpayer could not be denied the ability to pay a water bill over their vaccination status.
In fact, when Orange County made its announcement, the governor held his nose.
“The issue is, are you going to have to show [a passport] to come into a movie theater or a ball game or whatever,” his spokeswoman emailed in late July, taking his words from a speech two months prior. “Now, from an employment perspective that is a completely different thing than vaccine passports. I don’t support mandates either way, but that’s a separate issue for employers.”
Channel 9 emailed her back to ask what changed.
“The governor’s earlier remarks (from 4 months ago) were made long before anyone had proposed the kind of sweeping overreach and mass violation of medical privacy that we have seen in recent days, most notably with the Biden Administration’s announcement,” Christina Pushaw replied, pointing out that Dr. Anthony Fauci used to believe the federal government would likely never impose a mandate.
Frustrated by the never-ending pandemic and low vaccination rates, President Biden said the his administration would require vaccines or testing at companies with more than 100 employees last week. Legal analysts say his mandate has precedent from the US’ smallpox vaccine rollout and is rooted in OSHA regulations for workplace safety.
Orange County officials held their weekly press conference at the same time as DeSantis, and therefore weren’t able to offer a substantive response to his remarks when asked.
They said lawyers would address the consequences, legalities and path forward during the county’s Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.
“I believe that many of the decisions that he makes are purely politically motivated, and that is not how I make decisions as a crisis manager,” Mayor Jerry Demings said. “If there is an infringement on our rights, as a local government, we will deal with that. And we will deal with that through the courts.”
DeSantis’ plan does not affect private businesses like Disney that choose to impose mandates.
Cox Media Group