The House voted Wednesday to limit the emergency powers of the state Surgeon General.
Lawmakers passed the measure (HB 7) along a partly line vote. Republican Rep. Alex Andrade is the bill sponsor.
Under a bill passed in 2002, lawmakers granted the state Surgeon General several emergency powers, including the authority to mandate vaccinations “by any means necessary.”
The proposal would eliminate the vaccine mandate power and leave remaining powers untouched — allowing the Surgeon General to forcefully examine, test, treat and quarantine an individual during a public health emergency. The Surgeon General is an appointed role.
“This is not an indictment of vaccines,” Andrade told lawmakers. “This is an indictment of the vast abuses of executive power that we have seen across this country.”
The proposal is among a handful on the agenda during a five-day Special Session dubbed “Keep Florida Free.” The Session, ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, aims to thwart COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Florida.
DeSantis and Republican leaders have gone to great lengths throughout the pandemic to undermine federal and local health mandates. Many mandates, they argue, violate individual liberties.
“This is simply a bill to say that executive authority is not limitless,” Andrade added. “No one in America gets to be king for a day.”
In November, DeSantis joined a handful of Republican-led states filing lawsuits to halt President Joe Biden‘s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. He has also threatened fines against school boards requiring mask mandates and businesses pushing vaccine requirements.
Outnumbered Democrats, meanwhile, have little power to stop — or even shape — the proposals. Many blast the Special Session as a political stunt.
“We are devolving into making sure we are taking care of our political health, not our public health,” Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore said.
They also blast the proposal as short-sighted and dangerous to Floridians. The Special Session, they add, is unneeded as a state Surgeon General has never used the power before.
“It’s frustrating because we’re using the weight of this Legislature, the weight of this body, to help folks campaign for re-election (and) to help folks campaign for higher office,” said Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner. “It is unconscionable and it’s shameful.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately.
The companion bill, meanwhile, awaits a full Senate vote.