Orange County attorney questions legality of fines for cities, counties over vaccine mandates

ORANGE COUNTY, FLA. — A day after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would slap Orange County with millions of dollars in fines for its employee COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Mayor Jerry Demings said, “we have a lot of politics involved in this.”

During Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Demings asked County Attorney Jeff Newton to chime in.

“It’s a stretch, and that’s putting it politely,” Newton said.

READ: Orange County parents frustrated over delayed COVID-19 quarantine tracking in schools

Newton says he’s read Senate Bill 2006 more than 10 times, and he has no concerns over the governor’s threat because he says the law does not mention the relationship between an employee and an employer.

Newton said Orange County has not received a formal letter from the governor explaining why he thinks there is legal ground to fine the county $5,000 per infraction.

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“Since almost the beginning of time, going back to 1905 in a similar case before the United States Supreme Court called Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the notion of mandatory vaccinations has been approved by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Newton said.

So far, 72% of Orange County employees have been vaccinated. Of those, 63% of them are union employees and 80% are nonunion.

READ: Cities, counties that require COVID-19 vaccine for employees to face $5K fines, DeSantis says

According to the county, 448 people have applied for medical or religious exemptions from getting the vaccine.

“Listen, if you want to smoke cigarettes in your house, chain smoke, blow smoke in your own face, go for it,” Commissioner Nicole Wilson said. “But you can’t walk into my place of employment and blow smoke in my face.”

The county said it has not decided whether it plans to sue if any fines are issued, and will wait to decide if or when it happens.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.