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Crack down on cities and counties that need vaccines

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arrives for a press conference. | AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday opened another front in his ongoing battle against Covid-19 warrants, threatening to impose thousands of dollars in fines on cities and counties if they impose demands in terms of vaccines to their employees.

The governor’s latest move comes after his week-long battle with Florida schools over student mask warrants and after President Joe Biden said last week he would impose vaccine warrants on federal employees and federally funded health care providers, as well as employers with 100 or more workers.

“We cannot allow these people to be sidelined and their jobs destroyed,” DeSantis said at a press conference in the small town of Newberry, Florida. The governor was joined by city of Gainesville and Orange County employees opposed to the vaccination warrants as well as other Republican officials who sharply criticized the federal government. “It’s not something that should be forced on people.”

DeSantis’ warning to municipalities and counties against imposing vaccination warrants is its latest attempt to resist Covid-related restrictions, lockdowns or other measures amid the recent surge in new infections. While new infections appear to be on the rise in Florida – over the summer, Florida accounted for one in five new Covid cases in America – the state still had more than 100,000 new infections last week. The state also reported 8,000 more deaths over the past month.

DeSantis’ announcement on Monday also signals a shift apparently against vaccines, which were pushed by the Biden administration but have encountered resistance across the country by some who fear the vaccine or oppose the federal government forcing. requirements, among other reasons.

So far, at least three counties and cities in Florida – including Orange, a large urban county in the center of the state – have demanded that their workers be vaccinated or tested. Several local officials contacted on Monday said they would resist the governor’s attempt to stop vaccination warrants.

Monday’s DeSantis press conference functioned more like a campaign rally, with the public cheering on the Republican governor as he lashed out at Biden for his “arrogance” and was “dismissive” of those who disagree with his. position on immunization mandates. DeSantis, as he did last week, argued that Biden did not have the legal authority to demand mandates, especially for large employers, and appeared ready to challenge the president’s authority.

“I think the fight with the Biden mandate is a real serious fight to defend the constitutional system,” DeSantis said. “And you know he’s so contemptuous of anyone who doesn’t agree with him.” You know how he talks about governors like they just need to be put aside. “

The scene was a sharp turnaround from the start of the year when the governor aggressively touted the Covid-19 vaccines and pushed for many of the state’s elderly to be vaccinated against the deadly disease that claimed their lives. to more than 48,000 Floridians.

Instead, DeSantis stood alongside people opposed to the vaccine, including a worker from Gainesville who said the vaccine alters genes. Another woman kept saying “my body, my choice” – echoing a refrain often heard from those who support the right to abortion.

But any attempt to ban vaccination warrants will not be easy. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings defended the mandate requirement, saying the governor’s actions were aimed at pleasing political supporters and the local government was caught in the “middle” between Biden and the governors of the GOP opposed to him. He said his county was ready to challenge any state action in court.

“I am not going to take any action that would negatively impact the safety of our community,” said Demings, who is married to Rep. Val Demings, the Orlando Democrat defying GOP Senator Marco Rubio. “Sometimes, quite frankly, I wonder if the governor really sees it that way. He can say so, but I think a lot of the decisions he makes are purely politically motivated.

Shelby Taylor, spokesperson for the City of Gainesville, said in an email that “the health, safety and well-being of our city’s workforce and those we serve is our priority. number one. The city has taken the necessary steps to achieve this priority and stick to this decision. We are convinced that as an employer we retain the right and the responsibility to require vaccinations as a condition of employment. “

Florida has the highest vaccination rate of any southern state except Virginia. But amid the sharp increase this summer caused by the Delta variant, local governments have implemented incentive programs and mandates that require their employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Some Florida counties have required the vaccine or frequent testing, while others plan to impose disciplinary action – including possible termination – on remaining refractories. Orange County, for example, has a September 30 deadline for employees to certify that they are vaccinated.

Last spring, Florida lawmakers passed a new law prohibiting businesses and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination, a move that sparked a lawsuit from a major cruise line against the DeSantis administration. Businesses as well as cities and counties are subject to fines of $ 5,000 for each violation.

Nothing in this new law, however, prevents private employers from requiring vaccines for their workers. But a spokesperson for DeSantis argued that the vaccine passport requirement also prevents local governments from requiring it from their own workers. Spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, however, did not immediately respond to whether or not the governor’s anti-mandate stance extended to large employers such as Disney, which has already put one in place for employees at its parks. theme. In May, DeSantis said it was up to companies to “make those decisions.”

It’s also unclear how quickly the state will put in place new rules that would call fines against cities and counties.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody, who just filed for re-election, said Monday she supports an ongoing lawsuit filed by Gainesville employees challenging the warrant.

“It’s very simply ‘What power do our government officials have when we’ve never given them that power to do something like this?’” Moody said to applause. “… It’s illegal. It directly contradicts Florida. Law.”