OSHA bill ready for House floor, moves in Senate despite Democrats’ objections

Millennial lawmaker's critique: 'LOL, this is not a serious proposal.'

The full House is ready to consider legislation asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to develop a state workplace safety proposal, but Democrats say it’s not a serious proposal.

The measure (HB 5B) would ask the Governor’s Office to develop a plan for Florida to seek federal approval for a state counterpart to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. State occupational safety agencies must be at least as strict as the federal OSHA, but leaders in Florida’s Republican-led Legislature have framed the measure as a way to bypass vaccine mandates from a “weaponized” OSHA.

During a House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee meeting on Monday, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed support for a state-level agency. The bill sponsor, Land O’Lakes Republican Rep. Ardian Zika, said the federal vaccine mandate kicked off discussions asking whether creating a state workplace safety agency would help meet Florida’s growing economy.

“Florida knows Florida better than Washington, D.C., will ever know Florida, and at the end of the day, we have a responsibility as Floridians to ensure Florida remains a launching pad for the American dream,” Zika said.

But Democrats shunned the bill as drafted before the measure passed the committee on a near party-line vote. Democratic Rep. Joe Casello of Boynton Beach voted with Republicans.

Democrats noted DeSantis’ opposition to vaccine mandates. If courts uphold President Joe Biden‘s vaccine mandate, as the federal government intends to enforce through OSHA, state workplace safety agencies would need to include that provision as well.

Democratic Policy Chair Fentrice Driskell of Tampa called Zika’s measure a fool’s errand. Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said Republicans’ reason to create an OSHA alternative is to leave the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements. He also called it a potential “big expansion” of state government.

“LOL, this is not a serious proposal,” Smith said. “The proposal is not going anywhere. That’s why it’s a plan for a plan.”

The measure, which asks for the Governor’s Office to submit a plan to the Legislature by Jan. 17, was designed to make DeSantis and the Legislature look busy, Smith added.

“We are the Legislature, and we should not kowtow to anyone, including a Governor that wants very badly to run for President,” he said.

Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd came to Zika’s defense, telling his colleagues to “put aside the nonsense.”

“This is not a fool’s errand. It’s not a joke. It’s not an LOL,” Byrd said. “This is perfectly within our authority.”

While the vaccine mandate, which was set to begin in January but is currently paused in federal court, was the impetus for the bill, lawmakers acknowledge it would likely take years to implement a state plan. The shortest it has taken a state is about two years, noted Florida AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin. However, the average is more like three years.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls earlier Monday called the measure a “plan for the future.” However, he noted he believes the OSHA vaccine rules, which also includes an opt-out if employees undergo weekly testing, won’t stand up in federal court.

“Let’s be honest, if there was a legal mechanism by which the Biden administration could move about by just doing forced vaccinations and not having to contort themselves into this OSHA pretzel or the CMS pretzel, that’s exactly what they would do,” Sprowls said Monday. “They can’t find any legal way to do that.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson on Monday told reporters the OSHA approval process depends on who gets elected in 2024, noting the plan must go through the federal government. But as far as the federal government’s decision to impose what he called an unconstitutional mandate, the Senate President asked what comes next.

“What we do not want to do is set up an opportunity for future presidents to weaponize cabinets that will come in and do unconstitutional things, even if it’s only for a short period of time,” Simpson said.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 6B), carried by St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, also received its first OK in the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, the bill must next go to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it is ready for the full Senate to consider.

The measures include a $1 million fund for the Governor’s Office to develop the plan, including to hire consultants if necessary.

OSHA has already threatened to pull Arizona’s, South Carolina’s and Utah’s workplace regulatory agencies if the Republican-led states don’t adopt rules to protect workers against COVID-19.

Twenty-two states have an OSHA approved state program while five states have programs that apply only to public-sector employees.

Getting a state plan approved is not something that would happen overnight. There is a process that requires federal authorities to examine state efforts and ensure standards for worker protections are as effective as federal regulations.

To gain initial approval, states must assure OSHA they will have enough staff and regulations in place within three years. Once a state gains approval, it is eligible for federal funding to help pay for the program. Once OSHA gives its final approval, it relinquishes authority.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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