TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida will start issuing $5,000 fines Thursday to businesses, schools and government agencies that require people to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier this year that banned vaccine passports, and fines start Thursday if people are asked to show proof of a vaccine.
But there’s still no word on exactly how customers would go about reporting businesses that do ask for a vaccine passport, and it’s also unclear how the investigations would work.
The Florida Department of Health will be responsible for enforcing the fines. If you receive a notice saying your business violated the law, you will have a right to a hearing before a judge. Fines will be paid to the department and they’re due within 30 days of a final order.
The penalties for asking for a vaccine card could hit millions of dollars, according to the governor.
“You will face a $5,000 (fine) for every single violation ... that’s millions and millions potentially in fines,” DeSantis said.
The statute reads that a business entity “...may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or postinfection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business operations in this state.”
The same rules apply to governmental entities and educational institutions.
The statute continues by stating that it does not otherwise restrict businesses, government entities or educational institutions “from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s only statewide elected Democrat and a candidate hoping to challenge DeSantis for governor next year, was critical of the fines when they were announced.
“Governor DeSantis is retaliating against Floridians who are trying to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19," Fried said in an emailed statement. “This not only goes against common sense — it’s also an insult to the free market principles that he claims to champion."
The governor has also said cities and counties that mandate staff vaccinations would also face the $5,000 fines, even though the law itself doesn’t specifically ban businesses and governments from requiring worker vaccines.
“We are going to protect Florida jobs,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let people get fired because of a vaccine mandate.”
Salon owner Stephanie Stewart said she does not plan on requiring proof of vaccination because “it’s a personal choice.” News4Jax visited a dozen businesses across Jacksonville on Thursday, and they all said they do not plan to require proof of vaccination.
“Asking a hostess at the hostess desk to start asking the customer when they are coming in to have dinner to see their private medical information, and that’s where we don’t feel its appropriate,” said Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
At least one industry is firing back against the Florida law. In early August, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction in a Norwegian Cruise Line case. The state Department of Health is now appealing that decision.
COVID-19 infections in Florida skyrocketed over the summer as the state has been one of the hardest-hit areas of the U.S. from the delta variant. As of Sept. 15, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported more than 10,000 patients are currently hospitalized in Florida, up from about 1,800 in June but trending down from numbers reported earlier this month.