TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday vowed to deliver a legal attack against new workplace vaccine mandates from the Biden administration that are scheduled to kick in right after the end of the holiday season.
The GOP governor said Florida will join Alabama, Georgia and private employers on Friday in a preemptive legal challenge against a new vaccination-or-test requirement for businesses with more than 100 workers. The state will also quickly file a separate legal challenge against a vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid.
“I just think people are so sick of constantly being bossed around, restricted, mandated, all these different things,” said DeSantis at an afternoon press conference held at the Capitol. “We have had enough of it and we want people to be able to make their own decisions.”
These actions are the latest in an ever-escalating and increasingly caustic feud between Biden and DeSantis, a rising GOP star who is seen as a leading contender for president in 2024. But the legal fight over workplace vaccine mandates threatens to put Florida businesses in the middle of the fight as they try to contend with dueling directives from state and federal governments.
The looming legal clash comes less than two weeks before state legislators are scheduled to return to Tallahassee for a special session in order to adopt new laws pushed by DeSantis designed to discourage private businesses from adopting their own vaccine mandates.
DeSantis called the mandates announced earlier in the day by the Biden administration “unconstitutional” and “illegal” and even promised to use state taxpayer money to offset any fines assessed by federal authorities against businesses in the state.
The governor also predicted that the new mandates, which won’t be enacted until after the holiday season, would be just the beginning. He added that the Biden administration would eventually mandate that those previously inoculated to get booster shots.
Florida’s lawsuit will be filed by Attorney General Ashley Moody, who also blasted the vaccine mandates and called the Biden administration actions “authoritarian.”
“When this president grew angry and lost his patience and said that unvaccinated Americans were killing others he decided to violate the restriction of his powers through our constitution and impose his will,” Moody said.
Despite his insistence that no one should be fired for refusing to get a shot, DeSantis has stopped short of advocating for a complete ban on employer requirements. Instead he suggested that businesses will be confronted with sanctions that would convince them to drop considerations of mandates. The governor also contended that lawmakers could strip from employers recently-enacted protections from Covid-19 related lawsuits even though he did not include this proposal in the special session proclamation he issued last week.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is challenging DeSantis in next year’s governor’s race, said she did not agree with the Biden administration mandates, but suggested that the governor was being hypocritical because he has gone after school boards and local governments because they did not want to follow his policies on Covid-19.
“We are in this position due to a failure of leadership from Governor DeSantis who has been providing a platform for conspiracy theorists and extremism by denying the efficacy of vaccines and science-based public health policies,” Fried said in a statement. “The governor himself is now trying to enact his own mandates to block businesses, local governments, and school boards from protecting their own constituents.”
The Biden administration released two new rules on Thursday that will be enforced starting Jan. 4. Together the rules are expected to affect over one million workers and follow guidelines for federal contractors already put in place that are also now set to take effect Jan. 4. Yet those guidelines for contractors are also the target of several lawsuits, including one filed by Florida last week.
In a statement Biden defended the need for the mandates.
“The virus will not go away by itself, or because we wish it away: we have to act,” Biden said. “Vaccination is the single best pathway out of this pandemic. And while I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good.”
DeSantis argued that the rules for employers — which is being enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — were never authorized by Congress and that OSHA cannot legally justify that an emergency exists to impose it now. He said that once the state files its challenge in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Florida will ask for it to be immediately suspended.
“I think this rule is absolutely going down,” he said during a morning press conference in Jacksonville.
Florida’s legislative leaders — who were blindsided by DeSantis’ push to hold a special session this month — are still backing much of what the governor wants. Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson repeated on Thursday that they want to consider legislation that would replace OSHA with state oversight.
“Today, though, it has become even clearer that OSHA is being weaponized by the Biden Administration not to protect workers, but to institute an illegal and unconstitutional nationwide vaccine mandate that robs Americans of the dignity of work,” Sprowls and Simpson said in a joint statement. “As we have said before, the Florida Legislature looks forward to pursuing separation from OSHA and creating Florida’s own safety and health standards that reflect the views and values of our state.”
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