Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legislative fight against COVID-19 vaccine mandates is over.
Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature passed a bill Wednesday stripping the state surgeon general of authority to mandate vaccinations, among other proposals.
The Senate OK’d the bill (HB 7) with a 23-17 vote. Republican Rep. Alex Andrade is the bill sponsor.
“Floridians are worried by the expansion of executive power we’ve seen from the Biden administration and many local officials,” Andrade said.
In 2002, lawmakers granted the state Surgeon General several emergency powers, including the authority to mandate vaccinations “by any means necessary.”
A staff analysis noted the measure was passed amid ongoing national security concerns after the Sept. 11 terror attacks as well as the anthrax scare — a bioterrorism event that resulted in five deaths including one Floridian.
The new bill, however, repeals the vaccine mandate power and leaves the 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.
“Why would Florida give absolute power to just one person to choose for 21 and a half million Floridians over who gets what vaccine,” said Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, the companion bill sponsor.
Ordered by DeSantis, the Special Session — dubbed “Keep Florida Free” — aimed to thwart COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Republicans say the Session was needed to protect individual liberties and the livelihoods of unvaccinated Floridians.
Democrats, meanwhile, chalk it up as little more than political theater. DeSantis, they note, is a 2024 presidential contender.
“The circus has folded up its tents and is going back home,” said Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne. “The special session on promoting a presidential campaign is over. But the damage to public health will last for a generation and lead to untold death.”
The Special Session marks DeSantis’ boldest rebuke yet of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
In November, DeSantis joined a handful of Republican-led states filing lawsuits to halt the controversial vaccine mandate.
He has also threatened fines against school boards requiring mask mandates and businesses pushing vaccine requirements. The full-court press has garnered national attention — a point underscored by the attendance of the New York Times and Washington Post at Special Session.
“This week is yet another charade from power-hungry politicians who care more about scoring points off of one another than they do keeping families and communities safe,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. “It’s long past time state lawmakers get back to focusing on the actual issues impacting real people’s daily lives, especially now as we recover from the pandemic.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately.