TALLAHASSEE – The first two bills of the 2021 legislative session have been cleared through the House chamber, and they’re both COVID-related.
Lawmakers spent most of their time debating liability protections for businesses to shield them from COVID-related lawsuits.
Democrats argued the legislation protecting businesses from COVID lawsuits is a solution in search of a problem.
“We’re not seeing that flood of litigation at all,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani.
Republicans pushed back, arguing it’s only a matter of time.
“It may be 50 lawsuits now, but if we don’t do this, it’ll be 50,000 lawsuits soon,” said Rep. Bob Rommel.
Democrats were also critical of the high burden of proof required to hold a business accountable.
The bill says a business would have to be “grossly negligent” in order for a lawsuit to succeed.
The bill also requires a doctor to affirm a person contracted COVID at a specified business for a lawsuit to go forward.
Democrats argued that would be impossible to prove.
“You can file a COVID-related tort claim. And you have the possibility of succeeding, when pigs fly,” said Rep. Omari Hardy
That argument in particular struck House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who said it essentially proves the point of the bill.
“You’re in a business that has small margins already. You already had to lay off employees. Now you have to go out, hire a lawyer at $300 an hour to go defend a case against something where someone couldn’t possibly know where they’ve gotten it,” said Sprowls.
Debate took nearly two hours, but in the end the vote came down mostly along party lines with 83 voting in favor and 31 voting against.
There could still be a bumpy road ahead for the legislation, as the Senate is considering consolidating healthcare liability protections and those for businesses.
That would send the bill back to the House for another floor vote.
The House also voted to increase penalties on scammers who trick people into paying for fake vaccine appointments.
Unlike the liability bill, that legislation passed with unanimous support.