DeSantis unveils Florida special session goals

After a week of deliberations, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a formal proclamation for the Legislature to convene a special session beginning Monday, Nov. 15, and ending Friday, Nov. 19.

The governor made no bones about what he wants: Bills banning private employer vaccine mandates, fortifying the state's Parents’ Bill of Rights, disqualifying employers mandating vaccinations from liability protections, allowing those harmed by vaccinations to sue employers, and opting out of federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulation.

Florida has already banned vaccine and mask mandates by executive order, a 2021 Department of Health rule, a 2021 bill and its interpretation of a ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights,’ also adopted in 2021. The governor wants all further encoded into law and funding for challenging the Biden administration across an array of expanding fronts.

“In Florida, we believe the decision whether or not to get a COVID shot is a choice based on individual circumstances, so we are litigating against the Biden administration and will be passing legislation in this special session to protect Florida jobs and protect parents’ rights when it comes to masking and quarantines,” DeSantis said.

Florida last week joined at least 11 states in challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. The state is engaged in a series of legal and regulatory battles with federal agencies over COVID-19 restrictions on cruise ships, immigration policies, Medicaid funding and elections laws, and is embroiled in a tit-for-tat docking school districts for violating mask mandates with the U.S. Department of Education awarding grants to districts for doing so.

Despite Republicans holding a 24-16 Senate advantage and overwhelming 78-42 House majority, there are doubts DeSantis will get all he wants during the special session.

Florida Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mark Wilson told reporters last week its members were “very interested in the conversation” but “we’re not asking for legislation.”

“We’ve always been against government mandating what business can do and can’t do,’’ he said.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, in a Friday statement said they’re eager to address Biden‘s “illegal and unconstitutional” vaccine mandate, but also support state businesses.

House Speaker-designate Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who chairs the House Rules Committee, said last week many Republicans have no desire to tell employers how to run their businesses, including Disney, which has an employee vaccine mandate.

“Probably nobody’s happy at the end” of the session, he predicted during the annual Florida TaxWatch meeting on Oct. 28. “The people on the side of ‘vaccinate or terminate’ are unhappy. And the people that are on the side of, ‘I can tell my employer what the terms of my employment are and if I get sick they have to pay for it,’ they’re probably not going to be happy, either.”

House Minority Co-Leader Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said Monday in Tallahassee some Republicans are having a hard time stomaching all that DeSantis is dishing out.

“I have a feeling that some business entities that may be quite important to folks in this building have said, ‘Hey, we don’t appreciate what you’re doing here,'” Jenne said. “So I think you’re going to see that scale back a little bit.”

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