Businesses or schools that require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination could get slapped with a $5,000 fine for each customer or student, under a revised proposal (HB 7047) intended to “minimize the negative effects of extended emergencies.”
Legislation originating from the House Pandemic and Public Emergencies Committee has changed from its original version.
The bill makes changes to the state’s Emergency Management Act to “better address the threat posed by pandemics or other public health emergencies,” according to the bill’s analysis.
The new version of the bill accommodates a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis to ban vaccine passports.
A vaccine passport is the colloquial term for businesses or other institutions that require people to show proof they received a COVID-19 vaccine before being offered services or allowed inside.
The House Health and Human Services Committee meeting was the first opportunity Democrats had to question the increasingly partisan bill since it was rewritten. The new version of the bill passed the committee along party lines. The old version of the bill previously passed a 31-member committee in a 22-2 vote with most Democrats abstaining from voting one way or the other.
Rep. Tom Leek is carrying the bill in the House. Leek faced questions from committee members over the up to $5,000 fine for each incident of requiring documentation of a COVID-19 vaccine. Leek said in his interpretation, the bill’s language allows one fine per person rather than one fine for the entire policy.
Rep. Nicholas Duran said he’s concerned over the vaccine passport ban.
“We’re telling a private industry and private industry in general what they can and cannot do when it comes to ensuring that their customers are safe, that their employees are safe,” Duran said during debate.
Jacksonville Rep. Tracie Davis asked why coronavirus vaccine documentation wouldn’t be allowed at schools when documentation for other types of vaccinations is required.
Leek said if vaccine passports were required at schools, the requirement would unfairly penalize minority communities that have lower rates of vaccination.
“If you accept, as I do, media reports that our minority communities have the greatest degree of vaccination hesitancy, and if you accept that minority communities are getting vaccinated at a much lesser degree than the majority population, then to do this and to allow that type of proof of vaccination has a disparate impact on those communities,” Leek reasoned.
“I also happen to think it’s an overreach of government,” Leek added.
The bill would also limit local emergency orders to 42 days, seven days at a time, an original provision in the legislation. The Governor could invalidate local emergency orders at any time if they determine it unnecessarily restricts individual liberty.
“Simply what this is designed to do is to give the Governor, he or she, Republican or Democrat, the authority to come in and invalidate an emergency order by a local government to the extent that they determine that it unnecessarily restricts. That can be any number of things. It’s purposely flexible to provide that individual the discretion,” Leek said.
The bill would also place restrictions on the Governor’s emergency spending powers by subjecting it to approval from the Senate President and House Speaker, another area that was questioned in committee by Democrats.
The bill requires the Division of Emergency Management to maintain an inventory of state-owned personal protective equipment. The State Health Officer would also have to develop a plan for health emergencies.
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.