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Florida joins suit against vaccine mandate for Gainesville city employees

by | Sep 15, 2021


(The Center Square) – It didn’t take long for the state to take action after Governor Ron DeSantis affirmed Monday that under a new state law, Florida will fine local governments $5,000 for each employee required to be vaccinated, threatening some municipalities with punitive levies of “millions and millions of dollars.”

“We are not going to let people get fired because of the vaccine mandate,” DeSantis said in Alachua County where the city of Gainesville is requiring all its workers get vaccinated as a condition of employment.

“You don’t just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully over this issue, over what’s basically a personal choice over their individual health,” the governor said.

In addition to Gainesville, Orange and Leon counties have passed mandatory vaccine policies for employees with exemptions for religious or medical reasons. Other municipalities, such as Miami-Dade Country and the city of Tampa, have adopted policies that require vaccination or weekly tests for the unvaccinated.

More than 200 Gainesville employees, including police and firefighters, have sued the city, which is requiring they be vaccinated by the end of September or lose their jobs.

Many were on hand to hear DeSantis, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody say the state would join their legal action.

“You now have the attorney general in the state of Florida in your corner,” Moody said, announcing she’d filed an amicus brief Monday supporting their suit, contending the requirement was “unlawful” under Senate Bill 2006, which bans businesses from requiring “vaccine passports” for customers or mandating vaccinations for employees with each violation drawing a $5,000 fine.

Under a newly adopted state Department of Health (DOH) rule, SB 2006’s penalties can be levied beginning Thursday.

“We have never given (local governments) that power to do something like this,” Moody said. “It is unlawful. It is unconscionable that we would trust these folks to throw themselves in front of a bullet for other people, but we don’t trust them to make a decision for their own safety. It is unconscionable.”

Moody didn’t address similar vaccine mandates in Orange and Leon counties but DeSantis did, noting with more than 8,000 employees, Orange County’s policy under SB 2006 could cost Central Florida taxpayers “millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines.”

Gainesville’s policy goes against “the science,” he said, because it doesn’t include provisions for those who’ve had COVID and developed natural antibodies to the virus.

“Many of them have already had COVID, OK?” DeSantis said. “They’ve had COVID, they’ve recovered, and most of them — well, the ones who have recovered — have very strong immunity.”

Gainesville spokeswoman Shelby Taylor told the Tampa Bay Times that the city is standing by its policy and will prevail in court.

“The health, safety and welfare of our city’s workforce and those we serve is our number one priority,” Taylor said. “The city has taken the steps necessary to achieve that priority and stand by that decision. It is our belief that as an employer, we retain the right and responsibility to require vaccinations as a condition of employment.”

How SB 2006 applies to private businesses in the wake of a federal judge’s August ruling that it cannot be imposed on cruise ships remains uncertain.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams determined because cruise ships are federally regulated, Florida cannot enforce the state prohibition against mandatory vaccination mandates for customers and workers on them.

But Williams did not enjoin the state from enforcing SB 2006 on land-based businesses, such as Walt Disney World, which is requiring all union employees be vaccinated by Oct. 22.

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