Gainesville is expanding a vaccine passport workaround for city employees, one which Gov. Ron DeSantis said violates a soon-to-be-enacted state law.
DeSantis regularly lambasted the use of “vaccine passports,” the idea that government entities, businesses or other institutions could require a person to show proof of a coronavirus vaccination before entry or receiving services. DeSantis has passed one emergency order and a new law to keep policies like that out of Florida.
But Gainesville city officials are, for the second time, testing the boundaries of those laws with a policy that loosens COVID-19 policies but only for employees who show proof of vaccination.
Gainesville’s public information officer, Rossana Passaniti, stressed that showing proof of vaccination is completely voluntary. Still, those city employees who do show proof of vaccination will have fewer COVID-19 restrictions to follow.
“There are guidelines for employees who are vaccinated and those who aren’t,” Passaniti said.
Guidelines for a phased return-to-work process for Gainesville’s city employees state: “It is the City’s intention to maintain the vaccination status of Community Builder’s for the sole purpose of administering the COVID work rules.”
The guidelines use the term “community builders” to refer to city employees.
Gainesville’s guidelines also say city employees who choose not to show proof of vaccination are “subject to strict social distancing and facial covering requirements,” and employees who fail to comply with these policies will face “progressing disciplinary action,” which could result in being sent home and using paid-time-off for that period.
“It is not required that they show proof of vaccination,” Passaniti said. “Those who choose not to disclose — and that is their right not to — they are subject to strict social distancing and facial covering requirements.”
The policy is similar to one the city enacted at a City Commission meeting last Thursday, where attendees were told that they must show proof of vaccination or watch on Zoom if they did not wear a mask at the meeting. Remote viewers can call in with questions.
Passaniti said the City Manager crafted the policy.
The phased guidelines for Gainesville employees seem to acknowledge an upcoming law DeSantis supports that takes effect July 1. The guidelines for the period starting July 6 state: “If the community builder chooses to forgo the vaccination, they should remember the State of Florida has limited local government’s ability to restrict access to facilities based on the vaccination status of an individual.”
But even after July 6, certain policies regarding in-person interaction will remain for employees who have not logged their vaccination with the city, including “at a minimum, following face mask protocol and social distancing guidance.”
The new state law, Senate Bill 2006, does allow entities to enact their own rules about screening protocols as long as those protocols are “consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.”
Whether wearing masks for unvaccinated people after July remains a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance is still unknown.
There is an emergency order in effect right now, signed by Gov. DeSantis on April 2, that states no Florida government entity “shall be permitted to issue vaccine passports, vaccine passes, or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status to a third party.” DeSantis has said of the Gainesville City Commission meeting policy that it violated the “spirit” of that emergency order.
This is just one of the new laws from this past Session the city appears to be challenging. As reported by the Gainesville Sun, the Gainesville City Commission, last week, instructed legal staff to work with nonprofit groups that have agreed to handle the legal costs to draft a lawsuit that would challenge the new law House Bill 1, which stiffens criminal penalties for protesters.
Passaniti, in addition to her comments Wednesday, released a statement, which you can read in its entirety here:
“At this time, all community builders (employees) and neighbors are encouraged to get vaccinated. The city is not requiring community builders to be vaccinated as a condition of returning to the workplace, nor will the lack of a vaccination or verification of vaccination status exempt the community builder from returning to the workplace.
Community builders and neighbors who choose to forgo the opportunity to be vaccinated or disclose vaccination status will be required to adhere to the facial covering requirements while in city facilities at this time.”