Complaints: TV station violated ‘vaccine passport’ ban with debate requirement

GOP candidate blocked from appearance with U.S. Rep. Soto

By: - September 16, 2022 1:09 pm
early voting booth

Voting booths.

Florida Republicans are pushing back against a television station’s policy of requiring COVID-19 vaccination to participate in a political debate, filing complaints alleging violation of a state law prohibiting “vaccine passports” and urging officials to open an investigation.

Scotty Moore. Credit: campaign webpage

Scotty Moore, Republican nominee challenging incumbent Democrat Darren Soto in Congressional District 9 in Central Florida, declined an offer by WESH-2 in Orlando to participate in a virtual debate after he refused to adhere to the news outlet’s vaccine requirement.

Soto had agreed to a virtual debate, news executives said.

Moore initially filed a complaint with the Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office after being denied entry into the studio at WESH-2 for a scheduled in-person debate last week because he failed to provide proof of being fully vaccinated.

The Republican Party of Florida followed suit, with a letter sent Thursday to the Florida Department of Health, claiming that the station and its parent company Hearst Television violated a Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 that prohibits private businesses from mandating proof of COVID vaccination.

“We ask that you immediately investigate WESH-2’s COVID policy, and if it is found to be in violation of Florida law, take appropriate action,” the letter states.

“Mr. Moore sought reasonable exemptions to WESH-2’s unreasonable requirements. He requested to be permitted to participate in the in-person debate after taking an on-the-spot rapid test for COVID-19. WESH-2 denied this reasonable accommodation.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. Credit: campaign website

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, the law signed by the Republican governor declares that businesses “may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business operations in this state.”

The state health department has not responded yet to a request for comment.

In a written statement last week, WESH 2 said the rules “were defined and provided to Mr. Moore and his team well in advance.”

“We immediately offered both campaigns to reschedule the debate to a virtual form,” the station said. “Mr. Soto was prepared to debate in-person today and has agreed to a virtual debate. … Mr. Moore declined our offer for a virtual debate.”

In declining that invitation, Moore cited “the severe limitations of virtual debates and the discriminatory nature in which this offer was made solely based on his personal vaccination status,” according to the GOP letter.

Republican state chairman Joe Gruters said in a written statement Thursday:

“The decision by WESH-2 to cancel the Congressional District 9 debate because of a candidate’s vaccination status is discriminatory, unlawful, and will not be ignored by the Republican Party of Florida. It is beyond absurd that in 2022, as Florida has moved past the COVID-19 pandemic, our Republican nominees are discriminated against based on their private medical decisions.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.