Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed four bills into law on Thursday restricting mask and Covid-19 vaccine mandates in an effort to combat federal rules handed down by President Joe Biden.
Flanked by his newly appointed surgeon general and Republican legislators, DeSantis described the bills as a win for personal freedoms and workers’ choice.
“Mandate restrictions are tearing people down and today we lift people up,” DeSantis said at the press conference. “We are respecting people’s individual freedoms in this state.”
The bills were passed by the Republican-dominated Florida House and Senate the previous night in a special session called by DeSantis late last month.
The most comprehensive bill, dubbed the “big enchilada” by DeSantis, prohibits public employers from mandating Covid-19 vaccines and severely restricts private employers from mandating vaccines by requiring the businesses to offer a myriad of exemptions, including health concerns and a previous coronavirus infection.
The law includes health care workers, a rebuke to the recent emergency regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requiring Covid-19 vaccinations of all staff at facilities that participate in those programs.
“No nurse, no firefighter, no police officer, no trucker, no anybody, should lose their job because of these Covid jabs,” DeSantis said.
Employers who defy the law face a fine of up to $50,000 per violation. Government entities would face an investigation by the Florida attorney general at a cost of $5 million. Local governments also cannot require masks in their buildings.
In addition, HB 1B gives the Department of Health authority over any coronavirus-related policies in schools and expressly prohibits school districts from requiring students to wear masks or receive Covid-19 vaccinations.