Florida legislature begins special session to weaken COVID-19 vaccine, mask mandates

Florida lawmakers will start a special legislative session aimed at blocking federal COVID-19 mandates, which includes President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger businesses.

Governor Ron DeSantis has spoken out against such requirements, arguing that workers and families should make their own decisions.

Starting Monday, lawmakers will consider multiple proposals during the weeklong session. DeSantis requested legislation to protect "current and prospective" workers over COVID-19 vaccination status; ensure that people who are denied employment because of their vaccination status are eligible for unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits; limit school district mandates and expand a so-called "Parents’ Bill of Rights" law approved this spring; and repeal a 2002 law giving the state surgeon general authority to order injections or vaccinations.

DeSantis also is requesting "sufficient" funds to investigate and take legal action against vaccination mandates, including against the federal government. And he wants lawmakers to use the session to evaluate whether the state should "assert jurisdiction over occupational safety and health issues for government and private employees."

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"I’ve not heard anyone say that COVID is not real," the governor previously said. "They understand that it is real, but they also understand that different people are at different risk, depending on their age, health and a whole host of different things including prior infection. So, making those decisions is absolutely common sense. We are protecting people’s ability to make those decisions."

Proposed legislation already on the table would require any business to give employees opt-outs from vaccine mandates or face a fine of up to $50,000.

"People should have options. I believe this is what businesses and employees would have done, absent the federal government’s unlawful, in my opinion, involvement," offered Rep. Chris Sprowls, the speaker of the house.

RELATED: Florida files lawsuit against Biden administration to challenge vaccine mandate for federal contractors

Another bill, co-sponsored by Land-O-Lakes representative Ardian Zika, would take steps to withdraw Florida from federal OSHA oversight.

Florida Democrats have denounced this week’s special session, calling it a political stunt to further DeSantis’ White House ambitions.

RELATED: Democrats rail against COVID-19 special session

House Minority Leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said he expects the governor’s requests to be scaled back, including the proposal about occupational safety and health.

"Based on what I've heard, 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 told reporters. "I think you're going to see that scaled back a little bit. I know some of my colleagues here in the House and in the Senate have mentioned trying to create their own OSHA because of COVID. I've got news for you, that process will take years and years to get done. It will be a massive, massive expansion of government, Florida state government."

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report