Florida GOP pushes vaccine exemptions, school mask lawsuits

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Republicans on Monday debuted a sweeping set of proposals to combat coronavirus safety precautions in the state, outlining measures that would let workers opt out of vaccine mandates and allow parents to sue schools with masking requirements.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP leaders of the state House and Senate formally detailed their agenda ahead of next week’s special session meeting of the legislature.

The package of proposals, dubbed the “Keep Florida Free” agenda, comes as DeSantis wages a campaign against virus rules from local governments and the White House, raising his prominence in the Republican party as he runs for reelection and toward a potential 2024 presidential bid.

“At the end of the day we want people to make informed decisions for themselves, but we’ve got to stop bossing people around. We’ve got to stop the coercion, we’ve got to stop trying to browbeat people,” said DeSantis of virus precautions.

Among other things, the Republican measures would bar private businesses from having coronavirus vaccine mandates unless they allow exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, proof of immunity based on a prior COVID-19 infection, regular testing and an agreement to wear protective gear. Private employers would be subject to fines up to $50,000 for firing a worker without offering the exemptions.

Another provision in the GOP agenda would allow parents to sue school districts with mask mandates, intensifying a spat between counties and DeSantis over such rules. The governor’s administration has previously docked the salaries of school board members who defied a state ban on mask requirements in classrooms and slashed overall funding to districts that received a federal grant to offset the state penalties.

Republicans are also pushing to withdraw Florida from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which last week issued a new COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees at businesses with 100 workers or more. The rule is set to go into effect Jan. 4 and has already sparked legal challenges from more than two-dozen Republican-led states, including Florida.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Florida statehouse are set to reconvene Nov. 15 to take up the legislation.


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