DeSantis: Mandating COVID-19 vaccines could mean ‘millions and millions’ in fines

State law bans requiring proof of vaccine; businesses can be fined $5,000 per violation

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis and fellow Republican state officials railed against President Joe Biden’s latest vaccine requirements and threatened to fine any businesses by “millions and millions of dollars” if customers are asked for proof of vaccination.

DeSantis on Monday doubled down on his stance during a news conference in Alachua County. He and other Republican elected officials slammed Biden’s vaccine mandate that requires employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccines. The new mandate also applies to all federal employees of the executive branch, which does not include Congress.

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DeSantis signed an executive order earlier this year banning so-called vaccine passports or requiring proof of vaccination and Florida lawmakers passed a new law that also includes a vaccine passport ban. That rule goes into effect on Sept. 16 and would be enforced by the Department of Health.

“It prevented private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination to just do normal things like go to a movie or go to a restaurant,” DeSantis said.

The governor said the executive order also applies to government agencies in the state.

“You will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation and so if you look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, I mean that’s millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines, Orange County (will see) many, many more than that,” DeSantis said.

According to a spokesperson for the governor, the law would impose a fine of $5,000 per violation of the vaccine passport ban. Meaning for every person who did not get vaccinated and then was required to, the county, city or employer would be fined $5,000.

Several Gainsville city and Orange County employees spoke Monday during the media event, saying they are facing termination for their personal choice not to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maria Bernard, who identified herself as an Orange County firefighter, said she and her husband have both had COVID and are relying on “natural immunity” instead of the vaccine.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings imposed a mandatory vaccine requirement for all county employees on July 28. The current deadline is Sept. 30.

“We want to keep our jobs. We want to remain productive. We want to serve our Orange County citizens. We want to continue supporting our families, being able to feed our children, maintain our health care, avoid foreclosing on our home and secure our retirement,” Bernard said. “No one should be forced to have to choose between their beliefs and their bodily autonomy or their job and risk losing everything that they ever worked for in life to be left with no way to survive.”

Orange County has more than 7,561 employees. As of Monday, 4,704 have been fully vaccinated and 779 employees have had their first shot, according to Orange County Government. If the county was fined for all employees the county would face a more than $37 million penalty.

It’s unclear though how the state would know if someone got the vaccine because they were mandated to or if they opted to get the shots.

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said he supports firefighters’ and paramedics’ right to choose because they have been dealing with COVID on the frontlines throughout pandemic.

“Look, I got my vaccine, but I ain’t gonna support no damn mandate,” Patronis said to a round of applause and cheers.

Last week, the Florida Department of Health reported an average of 14,321 new infections per day. On Friday, Florida reported 353 new virus-related deaths from the past week but the cumulative death toll of 46,772 actually shows there have been 2,448 new deaths added to the state total, according to the DOH COVID-19 data.