Bill exploring Florida’s withdrawal from OSHA ready for Gov. DeSantis’ signature

The vote came mere hours after the Biden administration suspended its vaccine mandate, the impetus for the bill.

Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t ask for it initially, but lawmakers have prepared the Governor a bill asking him to develop a plan to pull out of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The bill (HB 5B) would give DeSantis until Jan. 17 to develop a plan for Florida to seek federal approval for a state counterpart to OSHA, which would result in the state withdrawing from the federal agency. Lawmakers approved the measure Wednesday along with three others, teeing them up for DeSantis’ signature.

However, DeSantis did not initially mention the measure when he announced his intent to call a Special Session. The bill emerged after Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls mentioned the idea in a joint statement.

Leaders in Florida’s Republican-led Legislature initially framed the measure as a way to bypass vaccine mandates from a “weaponized” federal agency, although state occupational safety agencies must be at least as strict as OSHA. Land O’Lakes Republican Rep. Ardian Zika, the bill’s sponsor, has tied the bill to “freedom,” telling members the proposal would benefit both employers and employees and allow them to grow economically.

“Florida knows Florida better than Washington, D.C., will ever know Florida,” Zika told members. “We have a responsibility as Floridians to ensure that Florida remains the launching pad for the American dream.”

In the House, the bill passed 76 to 38, with only Miami Democratic Rep. James Bush crossing party lines to vote in favor of the measure. In the Senate, the 23-13 vote fell along party lines.

The Senate vote came mere hours after President Joe Biden‘s administration announced it would adhere to a stay suspending the vaccine and testing mandates it intended to place on businesses with 100 or more employees from going into effect. Democrats argued the bill is a waste of time if the OSHA emergency rule is overturned in court, a distinct possibility.

The bill’s nature as a “plan for a plan” left questions unanswered regarding what the plan could look like. Zika and Sen. Travis Hutson, the bill’s Senate sponsor, repeatedly explained to Democrats that the plan has yet to come.

“The bill just deals with the proposal that we’re talking about what the plan would be in the future. So we’ll come back and see what that plan is,” Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, said.

The measures include a $1 million fund for the Governor’s Office to develop the plan, including to hire consultants if necessary. But during a House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee meeting on Monday, lawmakers said it wasn’t necessary to ask the Governor to develop a plan. The initiative could stem from the Legislature.

Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo opposed the bill, arguing against allocating $1 million with “no deadline, no responsibility, no benchmark, no accountability.” He also criticized Republicans for conducting a “deregathon” in recent years to reduce regulations on small business.

“Kids, this is how you define irony,” Pizzo said.

DeSantis gave a tepid endorsement of the OSHA measure when a reporter in Naples asked about it Tuesday.

He noted Florida’s decision to leave OSHA, should it happen, would not be unprecedented. However, he stressed that leaving OSHA is corollary to what he sees as the larger point of the Special Session, which is making sure people don’t lose their jobs because of failure to comply with both federal and corporate vaccine mandates.

“I think it’s an appropriate response, given how heavy-handed OSHA is being,” DeSantis said.

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.

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

“The looming deadline during the upcoming holiday season, imposed by the federal vaccine mandate, is making the silent night the stressful night for many families in Florida,” Zika said Wednesday.

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.

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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