A measure that would safeguard Florida businesses from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits is one step away from a key vote in the House.
The bill (HB 7) cleared another hurdle in the newly formed House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee when it passed with an 11-6 vote on Wednesday. The legislation is spearheaded by State Representative Lawrence McClure and GOP leaders who have lined up in the House and Senate to back the initiative. State Senator Jeff Brandes is carrying the measure (SB 74) in the high chamber. That bill also passed along party lines last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a 7-4 vote.
The measure floated as a “top priority” for Governor Ron DeSantis and Republicans this upcoming session, has come under scrutiny by House Democrats who argue that such legislation makes it difficult for people to seek damages from businesses that aren’t taking proper precautions during the pandemic.
Democratic State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith is one of those detractors, who pushed back against the bill during today’s hearing, calling it a “solution in search of a problem.”
“This is not relief for small businesses. It’s not,” Smith said.
But Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who has been one of the state’s most vocal advocates against COVID-19 lawsuits aimed at businesses and health care workers, applauded today’s passage, stressing the importance of protecting Florida’s lifeblood during the lingering pandemic.
“Nearly a year ago, COVID-19 changed everything and I’ve made it my top priority this year to advocate for vital liability protections for Florida businesses so they can open their doors without fear of frivolous litigation,” Patronis said following the vote. “It is my mission to add Florida to the list of more than 20 states that have provided some form of COVID liability protections for businesses to ensure our economy can fully recover following the effects of the pandemic.
“Businesses who are working every day to follow safety guidelines and do right by their customers and employees should be able to operate in our state without fear. I’m proud to support Speaker Chris Sprowls and Representative Lawrence McClure in their pursuit of liability shields for our job creators and thank them for their hard work on this important legislation.”
The legislation has also received support from Floridians. A poll, released last week by the Florida Chamber, showed that voters in the Sunshine State are in favor of protections for businesses that followed public health protocols and guidelines, with 74 percent of the participants supporting a bill that shields businesses from “bad actors.” When extended to include doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes, support for liability protections increased to 78 percent, according to the poll.
McClure’s bill will now head to the House Judiciary Committee.