DeSantis plans special session to fight Biden’s vaccine mandates; calls them ‘forced injections’

The matter ‘cannot wait until the regular legislative session next year’

By: - October 21, 2021 11:54 am

Gov. Ron DeSantis during his news conference on Oct. 21, 2021. Flanking him are Attorney General Ashley Moody and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Source: DeSantis Rumble page

Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling the Florida Legislature into a special session to protect Floridians from the Biden administration’s mandate that businesses and hospitals require what the governor called “forced injections” of workers with COVID vaccines.

During a Clearwater news conference that featured all the trappings of a campaign rally, the governor said he would ask lawmakers to remove COVID liability protections for businesses that require workers to get vaccinated and to provide unemployment insurance for those fired for refusing to comply with these mandates.

“There are some times when things are so off kilter, you know, we’ve just got to come in and kind of reorient the universe a little bit, make sure we’re not losing sight of what’s important,” DeSantis said.

“And I can tell you from me, I want a state in which people are able to maintain their livelihoods, earn a living, and provide for their families,” he continued to shouts of approval from a crowd assembled behind him on a stage.

“And if there are things that are happening, either from the federal government or from big corporations, that are hurting that, that are hurting people, then we have a responsibility to step up and lead and step up and act. And so, that’s what we’re doing here.

“I hope that just the fact that we’re going into special session, maybe that will serve as a wake-up call.”

DeSantis did not specify a date for the special session to convene, and his press office said there’s no written legislation yet.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls released a letter he’d written to House members noting the development.

“At this time, we have not received the dates or details regarding any proposed call. We are in communication with the governor’s office and our partners in the Senate, and we will share details with you as they emerge,” Sprowls wrote.

There was no immediate response from Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Later, in a joint statement, Sprowls and Simpson promised to “respond to this gross overreach by the federal government” and floated the idea of erecting a state workforce safety regime to replace the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is drafting Biden’s mandate.

“We believe that by doing so, Florida will have the ability to alleviate onerous federal regulations placed on employers and employees,” they wrote.

“We stand with the dedicated health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, military service members, and all workers across the country who never got a day off and couldn’t work from home during the pandemic. Too many of our esteemed heroes are facing termination thanks to heavy handedness at all levels of government. During the upcoming special session, our goal is to make our laws even more clear that Florida stands as refuge for families and businesses who want to live in freedom.”

Democrats condemned the governor as “self-serving” and “completely reckless.” More on that in this story.

‘Don’t tread on Florida’

DeSantis appeared on a stage at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office hangar at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, flanked by Attorney General Ashley Moody and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Also present were dozens of people holding placards that a DeSantis aide had passed out earlier.

Image circulated by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ aides during an Oct. 21, 2021, news conference cum rally. Source: DeSantis Twitter feed

One, modeled on the Gadsden flag, but with an alligator replacing the snake, read, “Don’t Tread on Florida.” The other, featuring a map of Florida with a version of the U.S. flag superimposed said simply: “Freedom has a home here.”

The governor called upon an airline mechanic, a nurse, and an Orange County fire battalion chief to tell how they lost or fear losing their jobs because they don’t want to go along with vaccine mandates.

Moody announced that her office has asked to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Orange County first responders challenging that county’s vaccine mandate. She also has intervened in a similar case in in Gainesville.

“There are folks across this nation and in Florida that are being forced to upload papers to databases to show that they have been vaccinated,” Moody said.

“Think about that: We are in the United States of America, the free states of America, and we have folks having to upload documentation into databases because of the mandates of this federal government. It will not be tolerated in Florida or accepted,” she said.

She and DeSantis both argued the mandate is driving key workers out of jobs and endangering the economy and public safety.

Ladapo pointed to shifting guidance from federal public health experts about the vaccines’ efficacy and suggested skeptics are right to have qualms.

“This idea that we are foolish for not believing people who are telling us things that we don’t have data for right now is ridiculous, and people need to continue and stick with their intuition and their sensibilities,” he said.

Meanwhile DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw stressed that the governor was targeting not just the Biden administration, but also individual businesses imposing vaccine mandates for workers and customers — “regardless of what the federal government does or does not do.”

About that legislation: The governor said he would seek to lift legal liability from businesses that require employees to prove they’ve been vaccinated. The Legislature approved a liability exemption last year but it binds businesses only in regard to their customers — not their employees.

“To now see some of those same businesses who were complaining about potential liability turn around and want to fire employees over these injections — I kinda feel like they’re stabbing us in the back after we were standing up for them,” he said.

DeSantis also wants to allow anyone who suffers any side effects from forced vaccinations to sue the businesses that imposed the mandate. Furthermore, he argued that affected workers are entitled to a presumption that they haven’t been fired for cause, enabling them to draw unemployment insurance.

“At the end of the day, you know, you shouldn’t be discriminated against based on your health decisions,” he said.

Legislative agenda

According to a handout from the governor’s office, DeSantis also proposes:

  • A bar on enforcement of noncompete agreements of employees fired over vaccines.
  • Employers must notify employees of their right to claim religious and medical exemptions, and could be sued if they fail to do so.
  • The state would help fired workers find new jobs.
  • Bar government entities including school districts from firing anyone for refusing a vaccine.
  • Clarify the Parents’ Bill of Rights to toughen parents’ ability to opt out of mandates for their schoolchildren.

A state trial judge ruled that the Bill of Rights allowed school boards to mandate mask-wearing by school children under some circumstances, contrary to DeSantis administration policy, although a state appeals court has put that ruling on hold pending further deliberations. Six school boards are pursing a separate administrative appeal regarding the policy.

“The teeth need to be strengthened” in that law, DeSantis said.

DeSantis has made vaccine mandates into a political point of contention between himself and President Joe Biden, who has ordered his administration to prepare regulations requiring employees to become vaccinated, intending to curb transmission of the coronavirus, and is encouraging businesses to adopt the mandate on their own in the meantime.

The mandate to apply to companies with more than 100 employees, although individuals could opt for weekly testing as an alternative to the shots.

The president also plans to require health care providers receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid money to require staff to take the shots.

“I think, from the very beginning of this pandemic, we’ve seen assaults on people’s basic rights unlike we’ve seen in my lifetime, I can tell you that. And Florida’s really been the leader in making it very clear people have a right to work. You know, we’re going to have businesses open, we’re going to have kids in school. We’re going to make sure that our economy and our society is able to thrive and that people are protected with their livelihoods,” the governor said.

“That’s something that cannot wait until the regular legislative session next year. It needs to happen soon,” he said.

As the Legislature debated his proposal to ban “vaccine passports” last year, DeSantis said, “It would never have occurred to me that we would be in the situation that we are with some of the insanity that’s raining down right now.”

Note: This story has been updated to include additional details from the news conference and reaction.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.