by John Haughey
April 30, 2021
Florida will fine any business or school $5,000 each time it requires a “vaccine passport,” or proof of COVID-19 vaccination, for entry or participation under a bill bound for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.
The House Wednesday passed Senate Bill 2006 in a 76-40 vote and sent it to the Senate to endorse a newly added amendment before the session ends Friday.
Sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, SB 2006 was passed by the Senate on April 22 in a 27-9 vote.
The 49-page SB 2006 amends the state’s Emergency Management Act to place limits on local emergency powers and installs fines for businesses or institutions that require vaccine documentation. The relatively technical amendment added Wednesday clarifies COVID-19 screening protocols.
Under SB 2006, violating the state’s vaccine passport ban would be punishable by fines up to $5,000 per violation.
Under another provision, local government emergency powers would be limited to 10 or 30 days. To extend the emergency order beyond 30 days, a vote needs to take place with a majority of voters approving the emergency order extension.
Opponents argued the bill infringes on business owners’ property rights and would impair the travel industry and the state’s cruise line operators, who say their customers want fellow travelers to be vaccinated.
“What about the cruise ship industry? What about the hospitality industry? They can’t make those decisions?” asked Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach.
Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth, said Republicans support for a vaccine passport ban undermines their pro-business claims, especially when it comes to the state’s $8 billion cruise industry and overall $90 billion tourist/hospitality economy.
“If you care about our business community as certain elected officials in this state say that they do, why would you prevent people from enacting policies that give their customers the assurance, the confidence, that they can walk into a business, and that they’ll be safe?” Hardy asked.
Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, who carried SB 2006’s House companion, said forcing people to be vaccinated to go to work or to patronize a business discounts legitimate concerns about the shots.
“We have vaccines, through some miracle of science, that work. We also must recognize that COVID-19 vaccines don’t have the same proven history as the same vaccines we require our schoolchildren to get,” Leek said. “We must recognize that vaccine hesitancy is real and understandable.”
Leek said the ban also prevents discrimination of minority communities with lower rates of vaccination.
“Let’s return to normal, but recognize that it is fair for certain segments of our community to be hesitant about getting the vaccine,” he said. “And it is absolutely true that the largest segment of our community that is vaccination hesitant is our minority population.”
Wednesday’s floor debate on SB 2006 occasionally evolved into a referendum on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pandemic policies.
The governor – a leading 2024 GOP presidential candidate not named Donald Trump – has been promoting his open policies during the pandemic against “lockdown states” on national media circuits for months.
Hardy said DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic endangered Floridians and SB 2006’s emergency management restrictions “hamstring local governments.”
“Throughout this pandemic I’ve been concerned about government under-reach,” Hardy said. “In particular, the governor of this state failed to do what we know should have been done to prevent people from getting sick and dying.”
Republicans scoffed at the criticism, praising DeSantis for policies that kept the state’s economy far less impacted by the pandemic than most others
“We are leading the country in our economic comeback, and Florida will be at the top of that,” said Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point.