(The Center Square) – Six days after he signed an executive order extending Florida’s 13-month state of emergency 60 days, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all pandemic-related emergency orders Monday while signing a “vaccine passport” ban into law.
“The fact is, we are no longer in a state of emergency,” DeSantis said in St. Petersburg while signing Senate Bill 2006, which fines businesses or institutions up to $5,000 per violation if they require vaccine documentation for entry, service or participation.
SB 2006 also amends the state’s Emergency Management Act to limit local emergency powers. Under the new law, local councils/commissions must approve any public health emergency order beyond 30 days.
DeSantis’ executive order essentially makes provisions in SB 2006 effective immediately instead of July 1.
Under SB 2006 and the executive order, businesses can still make their own rules regarding masks, temperature checks or other protocols but cannot demand workers or patrons show proof of vaccination.
“You have a right to participate in society – go to a restaurant, movie, a ballgame, all these things – without having to divulge this type of information. And oh, by the way, you give that to big companies, they are going to absolutely try to monetize that. So, we didn’t want to go down that road,” DeSantis said.
The governor said the emergency orders and pandemic restrictions are no longer needed because enough Floridians, including 80% of the state’s seniors, have been vaccinated.
“Emergency orders, these extraordinary measures, at this point are not justifiable,” DeSantis said. “We have a majority of our adult population (that) has been vaccinated. At this point to people that haven’t been vaccinated is certainly not because of a lack of supply or a lack of availability.”
Democratic Statehouse leaders, in a regularly scheduled Monday news conference, said SB 2006 and the order violates business owners’ property rights, repudiates DeSantis’ own regional strategies and is more about the governor’s 2024 ambitions than Florida.
“To lift everything, and simply say that it’s over, that’s not true,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, Ft. Lauderdale, adding DeSantis’ regional strategy should be retained.
“One of the real bright spots was how, during the handling of the pandemic, the governor really allowed certain counties, especially down here in South Florida – some of the more built-up and populous counties – allowed them to make some of their own moves,” he said. “I think that was one of the smartest things Gov. DeSantis did. So, this is a complete reversal of one of the things I would actually praise him for.”
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Tampa, said the vaccine documentation ban removes a measure some businesses, such as the state’s $8 billion cruise industry, wanted and appears at odds with Republican support for business.
“It’s been an interesting sort of role reversal that we’re seeing with Republican leadership where they keep trying to tell businesses and corporations how to do their job and how to run their business,” she said. “It’s just very strange to me. And again, I think a move in the wrong direction.”
Jenne had his own interpretation for the “role reversal,” musing it may have something to do with DeSantis being among the lead 2024 GOP presidential candidates other than Donald Trump.
“I have been in this process. I just completed my 13th session. And typically, the Republican Party of Florida has been a real advocate for not imposing regulations on businesses,” he said. “So, I’m wondering if this isn’t part of a larger plan for a potential run at a larger office, which I think is in the offering. Here in the next couple of years, we’ll find out.”