TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Just two days after lawmakers reconvened at Florida's capital for a special legislative session to combat COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the state's legislature has approved a bill that dictates how employers and state agencies can handle the mandates.
Florida senators voted 24-14, mostly along party lines, to approve HB 1B. Florida's House of Representatives approved the same bill earlier in the day.
Under the measure, local governments and schools, as well businesses, would be barred from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Employers could, however, work around the ban if they allow employees to apply for medical or religious exemptions.
The other opt-out option private businesses have at their disposal to circumnavigate the ban would be if an employee had a previous COVID-19 infection or if they agreed to regular testing and wearing protective equipment.
The Florida Department of Health would be tasked with creating an exemption form that employees would have to fill out.
If companies with more than 100 employees impose a mandate without the correct exemptions, they can face fines up to $5,000. Businesses with less than 100 employees can face $10,000 fines.
Democratic senators raised concerns about how those fines can have a worse impact on small businesses. They argued the bill would be doing more harm than good. Democrats also questioned why $5 million was being allocated for the bill.
If signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, then the bill would remain law until June 2023.
DeSantis has become one of the highest-profile Republican governors in the country through his vocal opposition to lockdowns and virus mandates, pitting himself against President Joe Biden. Democrats have denounced the special session as political theater meant to raise DeSantis’ standing within the GOP.