DeSantis signs limits on vaccine mandates one day after Legislature approved them

‘Not bad for a couple of weeks’ work,’ the governor remarks

By: - November 18, 2021 3:57 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation countermanding President Biden’s vaccine mandates on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook page

Gov. Ron DeSantis affixed his signature Thursday to four bills designed to countermand President Joe Biden’s COVID vaccine mandates, one day after the Legislature approved the package during a hastily organized special session.

He did so during a raucous press conference at an auto dealership in Brandon — a locale seemingly calculated to needle a president who’s become the target of a popular right-wing cheer: “Let’s go Brandon.” You can read the history of the rude origins of that meme here.

“I think Brandon, Fla., is a great American city,” DeSantis said. The crowd cheered and repeated the Brandon chant.

“We’re proud to be able to make a stand for freedom in Brandon, Fla.,” the governor said.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Ashley Moody — who joined DeSantis for the news conference, along with House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and sponsors of the legislation at issue — filed a new lawsuit targeting one of Biden’s mandates, the one for health care workers.

Her complaint, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, names the heads of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and seeks to block pending regulations requiring vaccines for employees of medical providers receiving funding from those agencies.

“Because CMS’s rushed and unlawful mandate threatens to defund the state’s medical facilities, bleed them of vital staff, hamper the quality of their medical care, and harm both Florida’s economy and the health of its citizens, Florida seeks immediate relief from this court,” the motion says.

DeSantis had called the Legislature into special session to get ahead of that mandate plus others targeting private businesses with more than 100 workers and federal contractors. Moody has filed legal challenges to those regulations, too.

The Legislature worked for three days and produced bills, now law, forbidding public employers from requiring vaccinations for workers; requiring private businesses that require vaccines to allow exemptions for health and religious reasons, or for people who acquire immunity through infection with the coronavirus, agree to submit to regular testing or wear personal protective equipment on the job.

Additionally, the Legislature voted to let DeSantis study whether to create a state agency to replace the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which promulgated the mandates for private employers and contractors. And it clarified that parents decide whether public schoolchildren wear masks in class or get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Not bad for a couple of weeks’ work,” DeSantis said after he finished signing the bills, referring to his original call for the special session on Oct. 21.

“At the end of the day, nobody in Florida should be losing their job over these jabs. We want people to be able to work, we want people to be able to provide for their families, we want people to be able to have livelihoods,” he said.

“And that’s just the way it’s gonna be in this state, and we’re going to stand by all these folks and we’re going to make sure that they have the ability to make the best decisions for themselves.”

Overall, 60.7 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Florida ranks 21st for its fully vaccinated residents.

Biden announced his mandate initiative on Sept. 9, saying he hoped to curtail a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” amid lagging vaccination rates. He argued that unvaxed people held an obligation to their neighbors to take the shots to prevent further death and suffering, saying, “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”

DeSantis argues the president exceeded his authority and rejected a suggestion the session represented a needless expense, citing impending vaccine mandate deadlines for workers and arguing that waiting could have cost “thousands and thousands” of jobs.

“If you think saving people’s jobs is a waste of taxpayer money, heck, that’s like Page 3 of the governors’ manual,” he said.

“Look, I could have very easily just said, ‘Hey, it’s all Biden’s fault; companies are doing it; it’s private; it’s not me; I’m not personally mandating it on anyone,’ so whatever. I could have washed my hands of it and said, ‘You know what, it’s their fault, or their fault.’ But that’s not leadership. Leadership means you get in there and you do what you can to stand by people. That’s exactly what we did today and that’s exactly what we’re going to continue to do.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.