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Florida GOP bills to limit vaccine mandates move forward

Florida representatives work through a legislative session, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Republicans shot down efforts Tuesday to change legislation that would blunt vaccine mandates in businesses, advancing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ agenda against White House coronavirus rules.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled statehouse moved the measures forward over several amendments and objections from Democrats who argued that the proposals endanger people. Republicans have maintained that the bills are necessary to ensure that people are not fired over vaccinations.

DeSantis, a Republican, called on lawmakers to pass the bills amid increased tension and legal battles with the administration of President Joe Biden over White House vaccine mandates. The governor has gained national prominence in the Republican party over his opposition to virus restrictions and has alleged that the federal government is overstepping its authority with its nationwide virus rules.

“My goal bottom line on this special session is, no Floridian should be losing their job over COVID shots,” DeSantis said at a news conference.

The legislation would, among other things, bar private businesses from having coronavirus vaccine mandates unless they allow exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, proof of immunity based on a prior COVID-19 infection, regular testing and an agreement to wear protective gear. The proposals would also let parents sue schools over mask requirements and stop schools and governments from having vaccine mandates.

Democrats have repeatedly said the legislation amounts to political theater intended to boost the governor's national profile.

Republicans are also pushing legislation for Florida to begin considering a withdrawal from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which drafted White House vaccine requirements for businesses with more than 100 employees. Another measure would block the public release of records regarding state investigations of vaccine policies in businesses.

The bills are expected to win final passage this week.

Separately, Florida has sued the White House over rules requiring coronavirus vaccines for federal contractors and private businesses.