Florida lawmakers are in the midst of a special session in Tallahassee aimed at blocking federal COVID-19 mandates. That includes President Joe Biden’s mandate for larger businesses.
It has a lot to do with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ wishes. Not all lawmakers are on board. Florida Democrats call it a political stunt to further what many see as the governor’s White House ambitions.
The lawmakers are meeting to vote on several bills dealing with mask and vaccine mandates. Many Democrats didn’t seem eager to return for this session and revisit legislation they passed a few months ago. Nor do they seem eager to impose more mandates on companies that are campaign donors.
“This session will not address some legislation that’s been discussed in the past,” said Rick Mullaney, News4Jax Political Analyst and head of the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute. “For example, there will not be legislation that creates a ban on vaccine mandates for private companies – that had been discussed by some. In addition, there will not be legislation that takes away civil liability protection related to COVID-19 for private companies that had been passed by the Florida legislature.
“What you will see, however, is legislation that reinforces a ban on vaccine mandates for local and state government,” Mullaney said. “That means school boards, that means municipalities, that means counties, that means state government.”
Mullaney went on to say, “Also, you’ll see the parental bill of rights that was passed in the spring that will be bolstered, including maybe a provision for attorneys’ fees and a right to sue to enforce those rights.”
“And finally, maybe the centerpiece of this session will be a statutory scheme that provides exemptions and opt-outs if in fact a vaccine mandate is put in place for private sector companies. So take a look for those mandates. That will be the thrust of this session,” said Mullaney.
There are more questions than answers on the table. Business owners want to know how a vaccine mandate is defined and how much it will cost them to offer testing for employees. Those questions will be asked. But the big question remains, will there be answers?
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty here, and I don’t know if there will be answers,” Mullaney said. “There’s uncertainty because there’s ongoing litigation at the federal level; the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of course has enjoined President Biden’s desire to impose a vaccine mandate for private companies of over 100 employees. That’s being done through OSHA and there’s an injunction on that.”
Mullaney agrees with many state lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, should Florida’s new vaccine legislation pass, it will likely face legal challenges. Consequently, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee, “the courts may wind up figuring it out,” according to Mullaney.