Florida fines county $ 3.5 million for imposing vaccines
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The county government that is home to the capital of Florida was fined $ 3.5 million on Tuesday by state health officials for forcing its employees to go vaccinate against COVID-19 and for firing 14 workers who had failed to get vaccinated.
The Florida Department of Health fined Leon County, claiming the municipality violated Florida’s “passport to vaccines” law which prohibits businesses and governments from requiring people to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
“These are people who presumably have served all this time and now all of a sudden they’re basically being laid off,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a St. Petersburg Beach.
The governor later tweeted: “No one should lose their job because of the COVID shootings. “
The law came into effect last month and can result in a fine of $ 5,000 per offense. It is being challenged in court and conflicts with an order by the Biden administration that companies with more than 100 employees require their workers to be vaccinated or be tested weekly.
In a statement, Leon County Administrator Vincent Long said he had been briefed on the fine by media.
“There is genuine disagreement over the applicability of the law and the rule, and the county will assert its rights using all available remedies at law, if necessary,” Long said.
The decision to fine Leon County comes a day after the Orlando Sentinel reported that the state was investigating dozens of local governments, performing arts centers, Miami Marlins, a unit to combat terrorism and a concert by singer Harry Styles for breaking the law.
About 120 cases are under review for violations, according to a public record request from the Orlando Sentinel.
In central Florida, the list includes the Orange County government; the Orange County Convention Center; AdventHealth, one of the state’s largest healthcare systems; several performing arts venues; and the Amway Center, which is home to the Orlando Magic and recently hosted a concert by Styles whose tour required attendees to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19.
“At this point… the courts haven’t made the final decision, but it seems Florida law goes against our Florida Constitution and maybe common sense,” the county mayor said. of Orange, Jerry Demings, at the newspaper.
In South Florida, those under investigation by the Florida Department of Health include the Marlins, the only major sports team on the list; the city of Miramar; the plantation police service; and several performance halls.
Also on the list, statewide, is a counterterrorism unit from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Jacksonville; the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa; and the Mayor of Gainesville, Lauren Poe. Several cruise ship companies were also on the list despite a federal court order preventing the law from being enforced against Norwegian Cruise Lines.
At his press conference on Tuesday, DeSantis said his administration, in order to avoid layoffs, had worked with officials from Orange County and Gainesville, who also implemented vaccine requirements for them. employees.
The Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale is asking customers to provide documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test, with the option to submit proof that they are fully vaccinated instead. The policy is in line with comments made by DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw, said Kelley Shanley, president and CEO of the Broward Center.
In an Aug. 27 interview with the Florida Times-Union, Pushaw said the law “only prohibits companies from requiring proof of vaccination from customers as a condition of entry or service.”
“If bystanders can provide a negative COVID test instead of a vaccine passport, that is acceptable under the law,” she said. “People who want to show proof of vaccination instead of a COVID test are free to do so. It just cannot be coerced.
Asked by the Sentinel on Monday whether agencies or companies that allowed a testing option in addition to a vaccine requirement complied with the law, Pushaw said the law states that “mandatory vaccine passports are prohibited, but others COVID protocols are not necessarily prohibited. “
“An investigation is not a finding of a violation,” Pushaw said.
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