Jimmy Patronis urges House Democrats to vote up on COVID-19 liability protections

“I think you’ll agree this isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s a Florida issue."

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent a letter to House Minority Leader Bobby DuBose late Wednesday, urging Democratic leadership to rally rank-and-file members around a bill that would provide COVID-19 liability protections to businesses and healthcare providers.

The letter comes less than a day before the House is scheduled to take up the bill (SB 72). The bill, a Republican priority sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, establishes sweeping legal protections that have drawn acclaim from Republicans and arrows from some Democrats.

In his letter, Patronis described the proposal as the “single most important piece of legislation” of the 2021 Legislative Session.

He encouraged all Democratic members to vote in favor of the bill.

“This is an incredible opportunity for legislators to step up and protect our businesses and frontline healthcare workers who have lost so much during these challenging times,” Patronis wrote. “I think you’ll agree this isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s a Florida issue – and we must show our business owners, job creators, and health care workers that we have their back.”

Proponents of the measure contend businesses and providers navigated the pandemic’s early stages with conflicting health guidance and limited supplies. They fear predatory lawsuits are a looming threat.

Critics, meanwhile, argue the legislation goes too far while offering too little to frontline workers. Throughout the committee process, outnumbered Democrats have filed dozens of amendments trying to reshape the legislation.

Patronis, however, noted that several Democratic members are already on board.

“We must allow business owners who follow the proper health and safety guidelines to be protected from frivolous lawsuits and sue and settle tactics that will stifle our state’s recovery,” Patronis wrote. “No doubt, unless we take action to protect our small businesses, we’ll see big problems: businesses will close, insurance rates will continue to grow, and critical services will get squeezed.”

Brandes’ proposal enjoys the blessing of Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who last week described the legislation as a “good product.”

Under the bill, a plaintiff would need to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant acted with “gross negligence.”

Moreover, the protections apply if a defendant made a “good-faith effort” to substantially comply with government health guidelines.

The massive bill comes after Brandes merged two COVID-19 liability bills into one during the final committee stop. Originally, protections for healthcare providers and businesses were filed as separate measures.

“It’s easier to defend one fortress than to guard two,” Brandes told members of the Senate Rules Committee.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately and apply retroactively.

Meanwhile, the House passed a bill (HB 7) earlier this month that would provide liability protections solely to Florida businesses facing COVID-19-related lawsuits.

Sprowls later agreed to the new Senate language during negotiations.

“We anticipate picking up that bill, passing it, and getting it to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible,” Sprowls told reporters.

A copy of Patronis’ letter is featured below.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.

One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    March 25, 2021 at 8:12 am

    Sir the problem is that there hasn’t been clear standards and there are still no clear standards. Duffus Desantis is arbitrary and capricious in the vaccine distribution plan. Duffus Desantis is willingly slaughtering Floridians to get the Nazi death herd immunity. This is a lose lose! Maybe you ought to be working on climate change and more health care for Floridians! Maybe you ought to monitor the racist distribution being used by Duffus Desantis. This bill is just to easy to destroy with facts. This will not stop law suits. May even make them easier to win. Vote Democrat up and down ballot for the elections in 2022!

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