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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida lawmakers reassure businesses that federal vaccine requirements will not stand

 Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls opens a special legislative session to pass bills aimed at curbing COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
Valerie Crowder
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls opens a special legislative session to pass bills aimed at curbing COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

During the legislature's special session, House Speaker Chris Sprowls said businesses “are under no obligation to follow the OSHA rule” as long as a federal injunction remains in place.

One question before Florida lawmakers this week is whether businesses will have to choose between following a proposed state policy governing coronavirus vaccination requirements or a federal rule.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a rule last month requiring workers at businesses with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4. As part of the state’s efforts to block the rule, Gov. Ron DeSantis called the Legislature into special session to adopt policy that would give workers more ways to opt out of getting vaccinated.

The special session is scheduled to end Thursday but could last through Friday.

Bills under consideration would expand vaccination exemptions for private sector workers beyond what the OSHA rule allows.

Here are those exemptions under the proposal:

  • Medical reason, could include pregnancy or planning to become pregnant 
  • Religious reason
  • Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and face shields
  • Submitting regular negative COVID-19 tests 
  • Showing proof of a prior COVID-19 infection

A federal judge recently halted the OSHA rule requiring workers larger businesses to get vaccinated. The rule allows an exemption for those who submit weekly negative COVID-19 tests. It also doesn’t force the employer to pay for those tests. The rule requires workers who aren’t vaccinated to wear a face covering.

The federal order halting the rule from taking effect came after Texas, Mississippi, Utah and South Carolina took the federal government to court. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed its stay on Friday.

Florida, Alabama and Georgia have filed a separate lawsuit with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of 11 challenges at the appellate level that the federal government wants consolidated into one circuit.

State House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, says his message to businesses is that they “are under no obligation to follow the OSHA rule” as long as the federal injunction remains in place. “Right now, the OSHA rule is not in effect.”

Republican lawmakers say they believe the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately find the OSHA rule unconstitutional and overturn it.

“We believe that when this works its way up to the Supreme Court it will be deemed unconstitutional,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

Simpson argues that the federal vaccination mandate infringes on “state’s rights.”

“Certainly, it’s left to the states to do that work, and that’s what we’re doing today,” he said. “We’re setting up a Florida policy.”

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.