State OSHA shift could take years, DeSantis’ office says

Full delegation, approval process could take until 2029-30 fiscal year, office says

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of a legislative session, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis has vowed, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, to fight a decision from federal health regulators to block two coronavirus antibody treatments after the drugs were found to be ineffective against treating the widespread omicron variant. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File) (Phelan M. Ebenhack, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Saying it is too early to determine whether pursuing the change would be “prudent,” Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has told legislative leaders that it could take about nine years to move away from workplace regulation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Chris Spencer, director of DeSantis’ Office of Policy and Budget, sent a Jan. 18 memo to Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls that also said the state taking over regulation of workplace safety and health issues would require creation of a new agency.

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“The Executive Office of the Governor estimates that the full delegation and approval process will take approximately nine years, concluding at or around the 2029-2030 fiscal year,” the memo said. “The process will require extended coordination across state and local governments as well as the cooperation of the federal government through several federal administrations.”

The memo stemmed from a bill (HB 5B) that lawmakers passed during a November special session aimed at the state taking over regulation of workplace issues and ending OSHA oversight.

Lawmakers took up the idea after OSHA issued a rule that would have placed a COVID-19 vaccination requirement on workers at large employers. The U.S. Supreme Court this month blocked the vaccination requirement.

In a joint statement Thursday to The News Service of Florida, Simpson, R-Trilby, and Sprowls, Palm Harbor, pointed to a “resounding loss” for OSHA in the Supreme Court case. They also signaled they remain interested in the state taking over workplace regulation.

“While our immediate concern was addressed by the courts, we certainly remain open to pursuing a separation from OSHA,” the statement said. “The governor’s report confirms what we expected — separation would likely be a time consuming and costly process. In our view, the dignity of work is worth fighting for. We will always defend the rights of hard-working Floridians trying to put food on the table, and we’re not sure we want to wait to see what kind of unconstitutional overreach Joe Biden comes up with next. With that being said, we now have the time to give this idea the appropriate consideration it deserves.”

A federal law that created OSHA gave the option for states to operate their own workplace safety and health programs, with caveats that the plans receive federal approval and that state standards have to be as effective as federal standards, according to a Florida House analysis.

The analysis said 21 states and Puerto Rico operate plans that cover private and government employees. Another five states and the U.S. Virgin Islands operate plans that cover government employees.

The bill passed during the November special session directed DeSantis to develop a proposal for a state plan. It also required the governor’s office to report to the Legislature this month about initial issues, such as a timeline, and provided $1 million for related costs.

In the memo to legislative leaders, Spencer said the administration has taken steps to “determine the scope of a development plan,” such as creating working groups across state agencies and contacting other states.

“Our initial review has identified potential advantages of keeping regulatory authority closer to the regulated entity, increasing the authority of the state to oversee workplace safety within its borders,” Spencer wrote. “The EOG also has identified challenges including the significant time required to assume delegation and resources required to meet federal minimum enforcement standards.”

The memo said the change would require creation of a new state agency and going through a rulemaking process.

“While it is too early to determine whether or not pursuing federal Occupational Safety and Health Act delegation is prudent for Florida, we value the opportunity for collaboration on this proposal for the betterment of Floridians,” the memo said.

About the Author:

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998.