TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls legislators into special session next month, the quiet pushback of the powerful business industry is already being felt.
Although the governor may have declared war on employer vaccine mandates, he has also carefully steered clear of any talk that he will ask legislators to outlaw the practice by private employers, as Texas lawmakers tried and failed to do this month when faced with business opposition in that state.
Here, Florida businesses are saying they want lawmakers to let them keep their options open when it comes to knowing what’s best for keeping their employees safe.
“We’ve always been against government mandating what business can do and can’t do,’’ said Mark Wilson, executive director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. While the Chamber is “very interested in the conversation” over a special session, he said, “we’re not asking for legislation.”
So what is the need the governor and legislators want to address in the special legislative session planned for next month? The goals vary, depending on who you ask.
The governor on Thursday announced a series of legislative initiatives intended to make life more difficult if any companies in Florida fire employees for refusing to get vaccinated or tested. That includes making businesses liable for any medical harm that results from a mandatory vaccination, and repealing liability protections from COVID-19-related claims if businesses impose vaccine mandates on their employees.
Florida law bans governments and businesses from requiring “patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery,” but it does not explicitly prevent them from requiring vaccinations or testing of employees.
After a wave of high-profile firings of police in Chicago, a football coach in Washington for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and fears that a federal rule expected to be announced next week could force more layoffs, DeSantis said he wants legislators to preemptively protect people’s ability to make a choice about whether they want to be vaccinated.
But in interviews with leaders from hospitals to hotels, many Florida businesses say they don’t have an immediate problem with the current system. Others said they are troubled by the governor’s proposal that the state would roll back liability protections on private companies if they want to require vaccines.
“This is very contradictory to where the governor has positioned this state,’’ said Mark Trowbridge, president and CEO of the Coral Gables Chambers of Commerce.