South Florida governments push back against Gov. DeSantis’ proposed $5K vaccine mandate fine
Image via AP.

COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines
The Governor is overstepping his authority in prohibiting mandatory vaccines, they say.

Individuals won’t get hired to work the polls at Broward County’s voting precincts if they aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, but most other Broward employees can refuse the jab and still collect a paycheck.

This week began a new drama regarding what government employers can and can’t require regarding the shot to prevent COVID-19. After President Joe Biden announced last week that all employers with more than 100 employees must require their employees either get vaccinated or submit to regular testing for the virus, Gov. Ron DeSantis went in another direction this week.

DeSantis on Monday threatened to fine local governmental entities requiring employee vaccinations $5,000 for each employee required to get the shot. It could mean millions in fines. But South Florida’s constitutionally elected officers who have required COVID-19 vaccinations are not backing down.

“He has no legal authority,” said Anne Gannon, Palm Beach County Tax Collector, who mandated her 315 employees get vaccinated back in April.

Eight employees quit over the mandate. But she doesn’t think DeSantis’ threatened fines, which could cost her office $1.5 million, will amount to much.

Similarly, Joe Scott, Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections, is not losing any sleep over DeSantis’ threat that could cost his office $5 million. He’s in the process of hiring 1,000 employees to work the Special Primary Election coming up Nov. 2 to elect a successor to the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and they all must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

It’s all about making his poll workers and voters feel more comfortable.

“We don’t want an election to become a super-spreader event,” he said.

Christina Pushaw, the Governor’s spokeswoman, said SB 2006, which prohibits vaccine passports, also means governments cannot require their employees to get vaccinated.

Kevin Cate, consultant for Democrat Nikki Fried’s campaign for Governor, tweeted a video Thursday of DeSantis in May addressing the question of employers and vaccination mandates.

Pushaw said things have changed since May, and DeSantis was addressing private employers when he spoke there.

“The Governor’s remarks from May were made long before anyone had proposed the kind of sweeping overreach and mass violation of medical privacy that we have seen in recent days,” she said, referring to Biden’s mandate.

Scott says he’s sure Broward voters want him to make sure elections are as safe as they can be.

“This is what my community expects me to do,” he said, pointing out complaints he has received about the mandated vaccines appear to have come from outside the county.

Broward County Mayor Steve Geller said he would prefer DeSantis not fine governmental entities that require vaccination.

Refusing the vaccine will come with a price for Broward County’s 6,800 employees who answer to the County Commission — but not their job. They won’t get a $500 bonus that vaccinated employees will and they would have to pay a $20 surcharge on their insurance per pay period starting Oct. 1, under a policy announced this week.

“We’re having them choose between a carrot and a twig,” Geller joked.

DeSantis said he has no problem with government employers offering incentives.

“I think it is well within their rights and you know I think that would be totally appropriate,” DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday. “What’s not appropriate under Florida law is to fire somebody based on this issue. We got to protect people’s jobs. We got to protect people’s livelihoods.”

Miami-Dade County and the city of Delray Beach are both requiring employees to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Pushaw referred questions about whether they would be subject to fines to the state Department of Health. The DOH did not furnish a response Friday afternoon.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


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