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Florida lawmakers seek to address vaccine mandates as special legislative session begins

Gov. DeSantis has vowed to "exhaust every legal option" to fight COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Lawmakers will discuss.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida legislators reconvened on Monday for a five-day special session focused on COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said it's about protecting Floridians' right to choose whether or not they want to get vaccinated against the virus. Lawmakers will discuss a handful of bills already filed before the end of the week.

"Your right to earn a living should not be contingent upon COVID shots," DeSantis said upon the announcement of the special session in October.

The five-day session is happening amid ongoing legal disputes from the DeSantis administration against the federal government over its vaccine requirements.

One bill (HB 1B/SB 2B) would ban vaccine mandates for local governments. The same applies for businesses wanting to impose mandates without allowance for exemptions.

It would also allow employees to opt-out of vaccine mandates from the private sector for reasons including religious and medical reasons as well as proof of immunity based on a prior COVID-19 infection or allowances for weekly testing and agreements to wear protective equipment. 

The law would also prevent schools from imposing vaccine mandates on students and staff. 

Another provision of the special session would allow parents to sue school districts with mask mandates.

If companies with more than 100 employees impose a mandate without the correct exemptions, they can face fines up to $50,000. Businesses with less than 100 employees can face $10,000 fines.

DeSantis is also planning to challenge OSHA on its federal vaccine mandates. A measure would allow DeSantis to set up the state's own workplace safety enforcement agency and allow the state to withdraw from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Legal experts said that challenge likely won't hold up because previous rulings from the Supreme Court provide precedent, but have said any new laws passed in the special session for businesses and schools could stand under the Republican-controlled legislature. 

During his announcement in October, the governor also proposed a law that would make businesses liable for adverse medical reactions an employee faces due to the vaccine. 

Florida's special session is scheduled to end no later than 12 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19. 

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