The House Pandemic Committee swiftly and unanimously passed Rep. Ardian Zika’s legislation to crack down on COVID-19 vaccine fraudsters at the committee’s first meeting Thursday morning.
The bill, Protecting Consumers Against Fraud During a Pandemic, (HB 9), is a priority for House Speaker Chris Sprowls. The bill will create stiffer penalties for vaccine-related fraud schemes, which have sprouted up falsely offering access to vaccines or appointments in exchange for money.
The bill will also allow victims to pursue civil remedies against fraudsters.
“This is important legislation,” Zika said. “This piece of legislation, sends a loud and clear message to the fraudsters that the Florida House of Representatives will protect Florida consumers against fraud during a pandemic.”
And, complaints of COVID-19 vaccination schemes are flooding the Florida Attorney General Office.
As of last week, the Department of Legal Affairs’ Consumer Protection Division reported more than 14,318 contacts related to COVID-19 vaccination fraud, Chief Deputy Attorney General John Guard said at the meeting. For reference, he said, the office typically receives about 3,000 contacts for fraud schemes.
“At each stage of the pandemic we have seen scammers and fraudsters try to take advantage of Florida consumers and the deadly fear that COVID-19 has caused,” Guard said. “The Attorney General would welcome additional tools and clearer authority in this context to respond to these unprecedented challenges.”
The anti-fraud legislation was the only bill heard by the new committee, which is chaired by Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek. The committee was created in response to COVID-19.
After its success Thursday, the bill has two more committees to go through before its heard on the floor: the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill will likely move quickly through the House.
“It is a priority of the Florida House to protect Floridians who just want to get a COVID vaccine without being fleeced,” Sprowls said in a news release. “As a former state prosecutor, I know all too well how these operators prey on our consumers, and I will make it our mission to end their practice here.”