With a rock band as backup, Gov. DeSantis signs COVID-19 liability bill
Image via Jason Delgado.

DeSantis COVID liability
The bill is the first to be signed into law during the 2021 Legislative Session.

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.

The band, Highway 85, provided an overture for the Republican Governor, who signed into law the first proposal (SB 72) to reach his desk during the 2021 Legislative Session.

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.”

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 30, 2021 at 5:50 am

    How cute and special.? Businesses are not off the hook for covid liabilities. Science will prevail. Betcha some of the “law firms “ are loling this bill. Duffus Desantis is willingly slaughtering Floridians . Very easy to prove. Businesses hope you ready to deal with the law suits. Businesses hope you drop this bs on the Duffus Desantis and the Florida legislature. Time will tell.

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