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COVID-19 business protections on fast track

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new report from Florida TaxWatch estimates that the state could lose hundreds of thousands of existing jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity if lawmakers don’t act to protect businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

Florida lawmakers are moving quickly to enact safeguards.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, of St. Petersburg, is leading the charge to protect businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

“Any type of lawsuit would essentially drive them under because many of them are teetering on the brink,” Brandes said.

The protections would be retroactive to March.

“We can’t have the threat of COVID liability suits hanging over the head of small businesses because it will destroy jobs and keep owners from opening their doors again,” Brandes said.

The report released Monday by Florida TaxWatch shows Florida is third nationally in COVID-19 lawsuits, with 490 filed. Only New York and California have more.

TaxWatch estimates that as many as a quarter of all small businesses wouldn’t survive without protections. TaxWatch estimates 356,000 fewer jobs and a $28 billion reduction in economic activity without protections.

“We need to make sure good actors are protected and bad actors are punished,” said TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro.

The legislation would require a case be plead with particularity -- that means the who, what, where and when of the case. A physician would also have to sign off on the suit.

“We think this is a step, that your physician or any physician looks at the evidence and says, ‘Yes, it’s most likely you got it at this restaurant and not that you got it from your sister, who also has COVID and is staying with you at your house,’” said Brandes.

The legislation would require a lawsuit to be filed within a year of being infected. For existing cases, the clock would start the day the bill becomes law.

The House sponsor is state Rep. Lawrence McClure, of Plant City.

The legislation is expected to pass in the first or second week of the legislative session, which begins March 2.