'Stop the coercion': DeSantis has new plan to beat Biden's Covid mandates

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Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a series of bills on Monday that would neuter the new federal Covid-19 vaccine requirements and hefty employer fines rolled out by the Biden administration.

The four bills, which DeSantis announced during a news conference at a Zephyrhills construction company, would also call on the governor’s office to begin researching ways to create Florida’s version of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and remove existing language that allows the state surgeon general to call for a vaccine mandate.

"No cop, no firefighter and no nurse should be losing their jobs because of these jabs," DeSantis said. "We have got to stand up for people and protect their jobs and protect their livelihoods."

Why it matters: The bills will be filed Monday in the House and Senate, and they will be taken up in a special legislative session that DeSantis has scheduled to start on Nov. 15. The legislation is in response to a new set of rules published by OSHA last week that require private employers with more than 100 employees to implement vaccine mandates by Jan. 4.

"We've got to stop bossing people around. We've got to stop the coercion. We've got to stop browbeating people," DeSantis said.

Background: Monday’s quartet of bills is also the latest swipe at Democratic President Joe Biden taken by Florida’s Republican governor in a feud that could preview an all-out electoral brawl in 2024.

DeSantis promised to fight against the federal vaccine requirements right after Biden announced them in early September. The state is already suing the federal government over a separate rule that includes a vaccine requirement for federal contractors. The first filing in that lawsuit was made in federal appeals court on Friday.

Details: The bills would create several exemptions that employees can use to opt out of the federally enforced employer mandates, including an expected pregnancy, religious concerns and health safety concerns backed with a doctor’s note. They would also create an exemption for people who were already infected with Covid-19 and create an opt-out for employees who promise to wear employer-provided protective gear such as face masks.

Another provision would ban local governments and school districts from enacting vaccine requirements. The bills would also beef up a rule made by the state Department of Health in September that banned public schools from requiring student masks without parent permission and quarantining students who were exposed to the virus.

Businesses that refuse to follow the state law would be subject to an investigation by state Attorney General Ashley Moody. Employers found in violation of the law could face a fine of up to $50,000.

The bills would also block public release of any records detailing the circumstances behind an employee’s claimed exemption.

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