TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new bill into law, protecting businesses, schools and other institutions from liability related to the COVID-19 pandemic during a somewhat unconventional news conference Monday in Tallahassee.
Before the governor spoke, Highway 85, a band based in Tallahassee, performed a rendition of The Beatles’ “With a little help from my friends.”
Following the song, the governor spoke about SB 72. The bill, which is effective immediately, will protect businesses, health care providers, schools and government entities from lawsuits brought as a result of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things,” DeSantis said. “I think that the Legislature has been able to deliver today, so we’re excited about being here. We’re excited about being able to sign the bill. I think it’s very common sense.”
The legislation was the first bill to go to the governor during the 60-day legislative session that began March 2.
DeSantis was joined by state House Speaker Chris Sprowls and state Senate President Wilton Simpson.
“What this bill does, it says if you’re doing the right things, you’re protected,” Sprowls said. “You’re protected and you have the most aggressive protection in America. If you’re doing the wrong things, then there’s a way for people to get there.”
In order for a lawsuit to move ahead, a plaintiff would have to show that the defendant deliberately ignored guidelines.
A plaintiff would also need a signed affidavit from a doctor stating with reasonable certainty that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was a result of the defendant’s actions.
The law will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. It will set a one-year deadline for people to file claims.
Democrats opposed the measure, saying it will deny access to the courts for people who were damaged by the disease or whose relatives died from the coronavirus. They said the language in the bill and need to prove gross negligence will make it difficult to bring a case forward.
Republicans argued that in the early days of the pandemic, there were changing theories on how the virus spread and what protocols should be taken to prevent it. They also said there were shortages of supplies like masks and other personal protective equipment.
Follow the bill’s signing, DeSantis spoke about his plans to take actions against the prospect of “vaccine passports” and any potential moves requiring people to show documentation that they have been vaccinated before they are allowed to travel or enter some businesses.
“There was never under discussion any mandates to take vaccines. We will not have COVID vaccines mandated in Florida,” DeSantis said. “The flip side of that though with these vaccine passports is it’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.”
The governor announced he would sign an emergency order temporarily barring the use of vaccine passports in the state by either governments or private businesses. He also said he would be working leadership in the legislature to find a more permanent solution to restrict the use of vaccine passports.
“So we’re taking action,” he said. “We’ll also have something to say that, ‘That’s just simply not going to be permitted in the state of Florida.’”
The governor added that he would also oppose any move requiring children to get a COVID-19 shot in order to attend school.
“I also think that this particular vaccine would be totally inappropriate to mandate for kids, given how low of a risk kids are to COVID-19,” DeSantis said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.