The Florida Health Department fined the county government more than $ 3.5 million on Tuesday for violating the state’s ban on vaccination passports – the first time the state has punished a locality for defying the ban.
The health ministry said in a statement that officials in Leon County, where the state capital Tallahassee is located, violated state law when they demanded in late July that the 700 employees of the county provide proof of vaccination no later than October 1. Then, on October 4, county officials fired 14 employees for failing to meet the requirement.
“It is unacceptable that Leon County violated Florida law, violated the medical confidentiality of current and former employees, and fired loyal public servants because of their personal health decisions,” Governor Ron DeSantis said, a Republican, in a press release.
DeSantis, who has consistently resisted mask and vaccination warrants even when the number of cases increases, signed a bill in May to ban vaccination passports – including banning local governments from requiring anyone, including an employee, to provide proof of vaccination. The law, which came into effect last month, also provides for fines of $ 5,000 per offense.
Leon County Administrator Vincent Long said in a statement Tuesday that the county believes its vaccination requirements were “legally justifiable” and necessary to ensure public safety.
“The governor’s position in this case unfortunately appears to be less of a public health strategy than a political one,” he said. “The County of Leon fully intends to assert its rights by using all available remedies to resolve any arguments regarding the applicability of the law in question so that we may continue to devote our full attention to combating the virus, the protection of our employees and citizens and the fulfillment of our obligations to our community.
DeSantis has come under intense scrutiny from critics for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and he has also been criticized by the White House for his resistance to implementing strict security guidelines. public.
Other GOP-led states, such as Texas and Montana, have also passed laws banning face masks, vaccinations, and mandatory proof of vaccination. Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday signed an executive order banning any state entity, including private employers, from requiring vaccination against Covid.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that DeSantis and Abbott “put politics before public health.”
“Over 700,000 American lives have been lost to Covid-19, including over 56,000 in Florida and over 68,000 in Texas,” she said. “And every leader should focus on supporting efforts to save lives and end the pandemic. “