Florida Gov. DeSantis signs anti-vaccine mandate bills into law

Bills come after 3-day special legislative session

BRANDON, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed four bills Thursday at a car dealership in Brandon, Florida, aimed at pushing back against federal COVID-19 mandates.

“Today, we lift people up,” DeSantis said. “We provide protections for people. No nurse, no firefighter, no police officer, no trucker, no anybody should lose their job because of these COVID jabs and that’s what we’re doing.”

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The bills the governor signed are the product of a three-day legislative session the governor called with the express purpose of passing legislation aimed at ensconcing a ban on vaccine mandates in Florida law.

“Florida is leading,” the governor said. “This is the strongest piece of legislation that’s been enacted anywhere in the country in this regard and we’re awfully proud to be able to do it here today at Brandon Honda. I want to thank the Florida Legislature.”

The governor was joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody, Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Moody spoke briefly about the state’s legal battle against the federal mandates issued through the White House, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I’m so pleased that Florida and other states that have challenged the OSHA rule have seen success,” Moody said. “We have gotten a stay in that. And today we announced that Florida has filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare which (have) required all Florida health care professionals to be mandated (to get vaccinated) regardless of even if you are attending to patients.”

Ladapo touted the legislation, saying that “some of our leadership” believes “you don’t control your body.”

“(They) think your body belongs to Dr. Fauci, right,” Ladapo said. “And he gets to decide what you do with your body; what you put on your face; what your kids get to do — and this is part of what’s been attempted to be normalized over the past year and a half.”

“God gave it to you. It’s your body,” the doctor added.

Ladapo also referred to the federal effort to push vaccinations as “spiritual warfare” but did not elaborate as to what he meant by that.

Among the other speakers was an Orange County Fire Rescue employee, Maria Bernard, who criticized Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ effort to have OCFR employees vaccinated.

“I was facing termination from the job I have held for 17 years,” Bernard said. “Five-hundred ninety-nine Orange County Fire Rescue employees did not comply with the vaccine mandate before the initial deadline. A few days later, the mayor claimed it was never his intent to terminate anyone.”

The mayor initially stated that workers who did not comply with the vaccine mandate would be fired but later backtracked, saying they’ll get a written reprimand instead.

“My hope is this will set a precedent that will help all states and all employees regardless if they are in the private or the public sector,” Bernard said.

State legislators in Central Florida on both sides reacted to the bill signing.

“It’s just not right. (No matter) how much I believe in vaccination, you shouldn’t be getting fired if you choose not to get one,” said State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County.

“We have put business small and large in such an awkward position where they have to decide, ‘am I going to follow federal law or state law’ and the repercussions,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “I would call this session a political charade.”

One of the bills signed was House Bill 3B, creating a public records exemption that protects the personal information of workers who file a complaint against a private employer. It’s one that State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said she voted YES to, admitting that she mostly crossed party lines in that vote.

“I don’t want personal information or things that have not been resolved or reviewed where people are just doing it to make everyone’s life miserable,” said Stewart.

About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.