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DeSantis files a legal challenge to OSHA's mandate for worker vaccines

Ron DeSantis at the podium
News Service of Florida
Gov. Ron DeSantis, flanked by Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, announced Florida will challenge federal vaccination requirements.

The announcement came hours after the Biden administration said it would move forward with requiring vaccines for companies with 100 or more workers.

Hours after the Biden administration moved forward with COVID-19 vaccination requirements for tens of millions of workers, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that Florida will join Georgia, Alabama and private plaintiffs in filing a legal challenge.

The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed Friday at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, will challenge a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration that will apply to employers with 100 or more workers. The rule will take effect Jan. 4 and require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative at least once a week.

DeSantis said Florida also will challenge a separate rule issued Thursday by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that will apply to health-care facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes, that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Workers in the facilities will have to show they have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 5 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

During an afternoon news conference at the Capitol, DeSantis blasted the Biden administration for imposing vaccination requirements on workers.

“People are so sick of constantly being bossed around, restricted, mandated, and all of these different things,” DeSantis said. “We’ve had enough of it, and we want people to be able to make their own decisions.”

But leaders of the two federal agencies issued statements Thursday pointing to a need for vaccination requirements as the pandemic nears the start of its second year.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said. “We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

The OSHA rule is expected to affect 84 million workers nationwide, while the health-care rule is estimated to apply to 17 million, according to federal numbers.

“Today’s action addresses the risk of unvaccinated health-care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health-care system to strengthen the health of people and the providers who care for them,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a prepared statement.

DeSantis said challenges to OSHA actions can be filed in federal appeals courts, rather than through the typical process of filing in district courts. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases from Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

It was not immediately clear where the lawsuit challenging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule will be filed, though DeSantis indicated more details will come Friday.

The Biden administration had earlier announced it would require vaccinations at large employers and health-care facilities, but Thursday’s rules filled in the details. Also, it said a deadline for requiring employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated has been pushed back from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4 to correspond with the new rules.

The release of the rules came less than two weeks before Florida lawmakers will hold a special session that DeSantis called to push back against vaccination requirements and other COVID-19 mandates. The state also has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the vaccination requirement for employees of federal contractors.

Bills have not emerged for the special session, which will start Nov. 15. But DeSantis’ formal proclamation calling the session requested such things as legislation to protect “current and prospective employees against unfair discrimination” on the basis of their vaccination status; legislation to ensure that people who are denied jobs because of their vaccination status are eligible for unemployment compensation; and legislation to ensure that any people injured by work-related COVID-19 vaccinations are covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

DeSantis also called for setting aside a “sufficient amount of funds to investigate complaints regarding COVID-19 vaccination mandates and to take legal action against such mandates, including mandates imposed by the federal government.”

Widely considered a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, DeSantis has criticized the Biden administration for months about COVID-19 issues. During Thursday’s news conference, he argued that the vaccination requirements would worsen worker shortages in many industries.

He expressed confidence that the vaccination requirements, which also face challenges in other parts of the country, will be struck down in court.

“This is really, really significant, and I think it is a huge mistake,” DeSantis said. “But I am confident this is not something that is ultimately going to pass constitutional muster.”

Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.