Florida House, Senate panels move identical bills banning vaccine mandates
Image via AP.

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected three amendments filed by Sen. Tina Polksy.

House and Senate legislative panels Monday moved identical bills that ban businesses from firing staff for refusing to get vaccinated without offering them an opportunity to opt out and that bar local governments from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

The move hands Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis what appears will be an easy and victorious Special Session.

The House Commerce Committee spent four hours debating amendments and taking public testimony, mostly from people who oppose the mandates, before agreeing to pass HB 1B along a mostly partisan vote.

Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat, voted for the bill in the committee but said she won’t support the measure for final vote. The other Democrats on the panel opposed the bill.

Committee member Rep. Angie Nixon contracted COVID-19 while she was pregnant. As a result, she said, she has takes her daughter to a cardiologist several times a year. Noting that the House has in recent history passed bills from the chamber that limit a woman’s choice to have an abortion, she said she was confused that the chamber wouldn’t require pregnant women to be advised on the negative impacts COVID-19 can have on infants.

But her criticisms didn’t end there.

“I’m really concerned that we’re up here saying a horse dewormer is real science. I’m scared at some of the debate, or the testimony, that came from members of the public today,” she said adding. “I know what it was like to barely breathe. I wish I would have had the vaccine at the time.”

Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat, was referencing public testimony from someone who claimed to have been given Ivermectin, a drug meant for animals. The Food and Drug Administration has advised people not to take the drug for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19. 

In addition to addressing the vaccine mandates, the bill beefs up a 2021 law meant to give parents more control over their children at school.

DeSantis called lawmakers into a surprise Special Session to pass policy that makes it illegal for employers to require vaccines for employment. After behind the scenes negotiations, the House and Senate released four identical bills to address the Governor’s concerns.

The Session has been criticized by Democrats who claim DeSantis is playing politics to appease his Republican base. A group of physicians has criticized DeSantis, saying his policies put Floridians at risk.

The House Commerce Committee vote on HB 1B and HB 3B, an accompanying public records exemption, came hours after the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 to approve its version of the bill, SB 2B.

“What we are seeking here is to make sure employees are not getting fired,” said bill sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess

Sen. Dennis Baxley said it was “time to act” so that Floridians “are not subjects of a totalitarian national government.”

President Joe Biden‘s administration is moving forward with vaccine mandates for health care providers, federal contractors and large employers.

Democrats, like Sen. Audrey Gibson, criticized the bill as unnecessary, arguing it strips local control and is a “politically motivated piece of legislation.”

“The last thing we want to see is another takeover of a virus we can control,” Gibson said.

Before moving SB 2B to its next committee, the panel shot down three amendments proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Tina Polsky who asked Burgess how the proposal impacts Florida employment law. Polksy, a lawyer, noted Florida is a right-to-work state.

Polksy offered one amendment that would have excluded from the prohibition a broad group of health care providers that lawmakers earlier this year agreed to protect from COVID-19 lawsuits. The amendment would have exempted hospitals, doctors offices, nursing homes, home health agencies, federally qualified health centers and scores of other health care providers regulated by the state Agency for Health Care Administration from the proposed vaccine mandate ban.

“We should not be worried about catching COVID-19 when receiving medical services,” Polsky said.

Another amendment would have tightened a provision in the bill regarding exemptions employees can seek to avoid employer vaccine mandates. Under the bill, employers can issue a mandate, but only if they provide five qualifying reasons employees could opt out. Polsky’s amendment would have allowed employers the opportunity to question an employee’s religious exemption.

Burgess asserted such questioning was intrusive and would risk legal scrutiny. Another Polsky amendment would have made clear the law does not preclude employers from offering workers incentives to get vaccinated.

SB 2B is one of four proposals state lawmakers are debating during a Special Session on vaccine mandates, called by Florida’s Republican Governor. The bill would prohibit private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees unless they offer their employees one of five ways to opt out of the mandate, including exemptions for religious reasons and health reasons, such as pregnancy.

Private employers that violate the law would face steep fines and investigations by the state Department of Legal Affairs.

SB 2B is not as far reaching as what DeSantis said he wanted to see the Legislature consider. The Governor initially suggested lawmakers should strip COVID-19 liability protections from businesses that enact mandates. But lawmakers didn’t go along with that idea.

Additionally, lawmakers limited the lifespan of the ban. It would expire June 2023 if passed.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


  • Peterh

    November 15, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    The vast majority of large businesses support the mandates. Businesses WANT employees vaccinated to protect other employees.

    DeSantis has placed the Republican Party as the arbitrator of business decision making.

    Never in my lifetime would I expect such a move.

    • Jerry

      November 15, 2021 at 6:54 pm

      Never in my lifetime did I imagine what you liberals have done to this country over the past year and a half. A government forcing an injection into your body and making it impossible to make a living if you refuse? We have to fight against that by any means necessary.

      And I honestly don’t care what “the vast majority of large businesses” want. They treat their employees like garbage anyway. If companies like Disney truly and honestly cared about the well-being of their employees, they’d use those billions of dollars of profits they stockpile to pay a livable wage to their workers and pay 100% for their healthcare.
      Instead all these big companies do is mandate a vaccine that the taxpayers are paying for. These companies don’t have to pay a cent for this! And if you refuse to comply, you are terminated regardless of any religious or medical exemptions. And you people on the left applaud this.

      Ultimately, Joe Biden, Anthony Fauci, and the Fortune 500 CEOs do not control what gets injected into my body. Period! No compromises.

  • teelee

    November 15, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    Don’t New York my Florida. And those “large businesses” that claim to support the mandates, are only doing it in order to continue operating as federal contractors. They need to survive on their own, just as the small mom and pop businesses have to do on a daily basis.

Comments are closed.


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