The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed four bills that would prevent businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The bills now await Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature.
Earlier, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled statehouse moved the measures forward over several amendments and objections from Democrats.
The lawmakers passed the bills on a mostly party line vote after a lengthy debate that turned nasty when central Florida Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini commented about President Joe Biden.
"He is a tyrant nonetheless," Sabatini said, as he was met by yelling.
The exchange prompted Speaker Chris Sprowls to step in.
"Any comments regarding the President of the United States, President Biden, any comments related to the governor of the state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, those comments should not be made in the chamber," he said.
DeSantis had called the special legislative session to pass the bills, which he says are necessary to ensure that people don't lose their jobs over vaccinations.
“My goal bottom line on this special session is, no Floridian should be losing their job over COVID shots,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.
The legislation would, among other things, bar private businesses from having coronavirus vaccine mandates unless they allow exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, proof of immunity based on a prior COVID-19 infection, regular testing and an agreement to wear protective gear. The proposals would also let parents sue schools over mask requirements and stop schools and governments from having vaccine mandates.
“It's just mind-blowing most days to think that it is an acceptable position to hold that another person will get to make the health care decision about whether or not to be vaccinated, that an employer would get to make a health care decision for their employee,” said Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican.
Democrats have repeatedly said the legislation amounts to political theater intended to boost the governor's national profile.
"Does this bill truly attempt to keep Floridians safe, or was it crafted to kick off a presidential campaign for our governor?” asked Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat.
Republicans are also pushing legislation for Florida to begin considering a withdrawal from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which drafted White House vaccine requirements for businesses with more than 100 employees. Another measure would block the public release of records regarding state investigations of vaccine policies in businesses.
Miami state Rep. James Bush was one of the few Democrats to vote in favor of all of the bills.
"Parents have expressed to me that they want to be included and empowered to be able to make decisions that affect their children and that’s what I considered when I took the vote," Bush said.
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