Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has asked Leon County for $3. 57 million because it imposed a Covid-19 vaccine mandate despite the state’s “vaccine passport” ban, potentially the first in a series of punishments Florida could levy as it goes after businesses and governments for allegedly violating its prohibition on proof of vaccination.
The Florida Department of Health said Tuesday that it was acting “under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis,” the state had fined Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, after the local government asked for proof of Covid-19 vaccination from 714 employees.
Under Florida law, entities that ask for proof of Covid-19 vaccination–including businesses, local governments and educational institutions–are subject to a $5,000 fine per infraction.
DeSantis had previously criticized the local government’s vaccine requirement, which ultimately resulted in 14 employees being terminated, saying the county cannot “just cast aside people who’ve been serving faithfully” over a “personal choice” about their health.
Leon County officials have defended the mandate as a necessary public health measure, the Tallahassee Democrat reports, and its attorney has said the policy complies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the county’s authority to mandate vaccinations.
In a letter to county administrator Vincent S. Long dated October 6 and published Tuesday by the Florida health department, the state agency said the county had 30 days to pay the fine.
“It’s unacceptable that Leon County violated Florida Law, infringed upon current and former employees medical privacy, fired loyal public servants due to their personal health decisions,” DeSantis stated in a Tuesday statement. “We will continue fighting to protect Floridians’ rights, and the Florida Department of Health (Floridian Department of Health) will continue to enforce law .”
In an interview with the Democrat Tuesday, Long said the county was “taking all of the legal steps necessary to defend” its public health measures and called DeSantis’ response to the local government’s mandate “unfortunate.” “We plan to assert our legal rights to support the actions we’ve taken, which we believe are not only completely legally justifiable but are the most responsible thing we could do in this case,” Long said.
What to Watch for
Leon County’s punishment could be the first of many, as the Florida Department of Health released a list Monday of more than 100 entities that are “under review” for potentially violating the state’s vaccine passport ban. This list includes all entities named in a complaint. It also includes major companies such as Starbucks and AT&T concerts by Harry Styles or Maroon 5 in Florida. “DoD employees” are included in the list, suggesting that the state may take legal action against the U.S. government’s vaccine mandate. Orange County was also warned that it could face fines for violating its vaccine mandate. However, employees who do not comply with the policy can only be subject to a written warning and not to termination. Although Gainesville was initially listed on the review list, the health department said Tuesday that it has now been in compliance with state policy and will not face any sanctions.
What We Don’t Know
Whether Florida’s ban on vaccine passports will stand trial. The policy was already struck down by a federal judge. He ruled that Norwegian Cruise Line could request proof of vaccination.
Leon County is the latest victim of DeSantis’ September warning that his administration would financially punish any local governments that enforce vaccine mandates. DeSantis signed the Florida law in May. It does not prohibit vaccinations but stipulates that people cannot be required to show documentation. The law bans businesses from asking for proof of vaccination from guests or customers, but not employees, and bars the requirement that vaccine documentation be submitted in order to “get access to, enter upon, or receive service from” any local government or educational institution. DeSantis’ clash over the vaccine mandates isn’t the only fight the state has waged with local governments over Covid-19 measures, as Leon County and others have also defied the state’s ban on school mask mandates and been financially punished for doing so. The governor has broadly blocked local governments from imposing any enforceable Covid-19 restrictions like mask orders or business closures.
Leon County faces $3. 57 million state fine for vaccine requirement (Tallahassee Democrat)
Cruise Lines. Starbucks, Harry Styles. Here’s Who Florida Could Punish for Violation of Its Vaccine Passport Ban. (Forbes )
Florida Takes Action to Punish Local Governments for Vaccine Mandates (Forbes )
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