In a surprise break from Capitol monotony, Gov. Ron DeSantis enlisted a local rock band Monday to perform as he signed a bill that would create COVID-liability protections for businesses and health care providers.
Flanked by Republican leadership including House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, DeSantis said the bill aims to alleviate concerns among business owners.
“We want folks to be able to live their lives, provide opportunities for people to do different things and then let individuals make the decisions about what they want to do,” DeSantis said. “You want to go listen to the band? That’s fine.”
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, the bill’s protections become applicable if a defendant — such as a convenience store or nursing home — made a “good-faith effort” to comply with government health guidelines.
Moreover, when filing a COVID-19-related lawsuit, a plaintiff would need to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant acted with “gross negligence.”
Republican leadership motored the bill through committees.
“This is the most aggressive COVID liability protection bill in the United States of America,” Sprowls said.
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 and potentially crippling threat.
“We had businesses, frontline workers and health care that in the face of the tragedy they were facing last March, April and May had to go to work every day,” Simpson said. “This bill was essential to protect those folks.”
Multiple groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce applauded the passage.
“With today’s signing of SB 72 by Governor DeSantis, Florida’s businesses and health care facilities who continue to do their best to keep employees, customers and patients safe will no longer have to fear frivolous lawsuits as they continue relaunching Florida’s economy,” Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson said.
Critics, meanwhile, argued the legislation goes too far to protect corporations.
After the performance, DeSantis took a moment to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the band.
Lead singer and guitarist David Bowling described the impact as “horrifying,” adding that the band went from performing 12 shows a year to only two since the pandemic’s onset.
The impact, Bowling said, is far-reaching.
“You have stage production with sound guys, lighting guys, stage builders,” he told the Governor. “They’re out of work, as well as us.”