State of Florida investigating local governments, businesses for violating 'vaccine passport' ban

The state of Florida is investigating dozens of local governments, performing arts centers, the Miami Marlins, a law enforcement counter-terrorism unit and a concert by singer Harry Styles for violating a law prohibiting businesses and governments from requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Around 120 cases are being reviewed for violations of Florida's "vaccine passport" law, which took effect last month and can result in a $5,000 fine per violation, according to a public records request from the Orlando Sentinel.

The law is being challenged in court and conflicts with a Biden administration order that companies with more than 100 employees require their workers to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the Florida Department of Health fined Leon County more than $3.5 million for violating the law after the county fired 14 employees for not complying with their vaccine mandate.

"No one should lose their job because of COVID shots," DeSantis wrote. "We must protect the jobs of Floridians and preserve the ability of Floridians to make their own decisions regarding what shots to take."

Tampa's Gasparilla Music Festival is included as one of cases being reviewed for violations.

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In central Florida, the list of those being investigated includes Orange County government; the Orange County Convention Center; AdventHealth, one of the state's largest health care systems; several performing arts venues; and the Amway Center, which is home to the Orlando Magic and recently hosted a concert by Styles whose tour mandated that attendees either be vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test.

"At this point ... the courts have not reached the final decision, but the indication is that the Florida law flies in the face of our Florida Constitution and perhaps in the face of common sense," Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings told the newspaper.

In South Florida, those being investigated by the Florida Department of Health include the Marlins, the only major sports team on the list; the city of Miramar; the Plantation Police Department; and several performing arts venues.

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Also on the list, around the state, are a Florida Department of Law Enforcement counter-terrorism unit in Jacksonville, and Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe. Several cruise ship companies also made the list despite a federal court order that has prevented enforcement of the law against Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale asks customers to provide documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test, with the option of instead submitting proof they are fully vaccinated. The policy complies with comments made by Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said Kelley Shanley, president and CEO of the Broward Center.

During an Aug. 27 interview with the Florida Times-Union, Pushaw said the law "only prohibits businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from customers as a condition of entry or service."

"If concert-goers can provide a negative COVID test instead of a vaccine passport, that is acceptable under the law," she said. "People who want to show proof of vaccination instead of a COVID test are free to do that. It just cannot be compelled."

Asked by the Sentinel on Monday if agencies or businesses that allowed a testing option in addition to a vaccine requirement were in compliance with the law, Pushaw said the law states that "mandatory vaccine passports are prohibited, but other COVID protocols are not necessarily prohibited."

"An investigation is not a finding of a violation," Pushaw said.