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Politics & Government

Florida Legislature to tackle mask, vaccine mandates Nov. 15

The Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee later this month, for a special session on so-called vaccination and mask mandates.

At issue, efforts to prevent schools, businesses and governmental entities from imposing vaccination mandates and other pandemic restrictions.

“When we were doing the last legislative session, it would never occur to me that we would be in the situation that we are with some of the insanity that’s raining down right now,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In calling the session last month, to begin November 15 and go no later than the 19th, DeSantis said it’s also about protecting Florida jobs.

“We have a federal government that is very much trying to use the heavy hand of government to force a lot of these injections; and you have a lot of folks that actually believe that decision should be theirs,” the governor said. “And that your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots.”

When the pandemic began, there were concerns that some businesses would be hit with lawsuits claiming someone got the virus while at their place — a “litigation bonanza,” so to speak.

“And so we provided probably the strongest COVID liability protection anywhere in the country, very early on,” DeSantis said. “We were glad to do that and I think that that was something that allowed a lot of businesses to breathe a sigh of relief.”

Now, the governor contends that some of those businesses are turning on him by requiring employees to get their shots.

“But I must say, that having done that, to now see some of the same businesses, who were complaining about potential liability turn around and want to fire employees over these injections, I kind of feel like they’re stabbing us in the back after we were standing up for them.”

The laundry list of actions proposed for the special session include: protecting current and prospective employees from discrimination on COVID-19 vaccination status; and similar protection for governments and school districts, among others.

But Charles Zelden, a political scientist at Nova Southeastern University says the session has more to do with appearance than with reality.

“We’ve got a governor who wants to be president; in two and a half years; so calling in the legislatures just seem like he’s acting at being — for want of a better term — presidential,” Zelden said. “It’s an important part of his pitch.”

Gov. DeSantis’ mantra of no vaxx or mask mandates in Florida businesses, says Zelden, runs contrary to past GOP orthodoxy.

“He is a Republican and traditionally, Republicans were the party of business; but at this point, the Republican Party is sort of foregoing the pro-business stance for a stance that’s being demanded by their base,” said Zelden. “Adamantly opposed to the idea of these mandates, as opposed to leaving it to individual businesses to make the decision.”

With both houses of the Legislature controlled by the GOP, Zelden says it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion what will happen.

“The biggest thing in the way of any one of these bills to not go through, is internal fighting among the Republicans in Tallahassee -- that has been known to happen,” said Zelden. “They may also run out of time. But I suspect that most of these proposals will end up becoming law.”

Zelden was asked whether he sees former president Donald Trump’s hand on DeSantis’ call for the special session.

“I don’t’ actually, except for the sense that Donald Trump created the Trump base; and DeSantis wants it for himself,” he said. “And the Legislature is willing to help him out in this regard.”

While it’s not yet known just how much the special session will cost taxpayers, Nova Southeastern’s Charles Zelden says rest assured, it will be more expensive than a regular session.

“When you preplan things, you can get things for a cheaper rate; this is a last-minute sort of thing,” Zelden said. “So a lot of the costs that are associate with the regular session -- that are built into the budget and have long-term costs associated with it – that went out the window when you have a special session. How does [DeSantis] justify it? He doesn’t. I don’t think he even talks about it.”

Critics of the special session are questioning Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call. Vaccine and mask mandates are already banned by his executive order, along with an interpretation of a “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which was also adopted this year.

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