Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Florida businesses, cities and schools risk heavy fines for violating DeSantis requirements in connection with pandemic

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – Ashley Hannah wasn’t about to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis when she offered vaccine-only classes at her yoga studio. But to accommodate customers worried about the coronavirus as the delta variant burned through Florida, she expanded her weekly schedule to include two sessions reserved for people vaccinated against the virus.

“We are a small business and have clients who, if we didn’t have these activities, we would have lost them,” said Hannah, who owns Titanium Yoga in Ponte Vedra Beach, south of Jacksonville. “We wanted to give people a choice.”

The decision put Hannah on a list of more than 100 businesses and local governments reported to the state as violating Florida’s Vaccine Requirements Act advocated by DeSantis. Critics of the governor say that his actions only strengthen the positions of offended anti-tax and anti-maskers.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

Hannah stopped grateful for the Republican leader’s light touch on blackouts during the pandemic – he issued an order not to leave the house in April 2020 and canceled it a month later – much to concern and confusion. She was threatened with a fine of over $ 100,000.

“I literally thank God for starting a business in Florida. If we had to close for a long time, we would never do it, ”she said recently. “But I don’t understand that. If I needed a vaccine just to get in the front door, “Okay Ashley, you’re challenging the governor.” But that’s not what I did; that’s not what I’m doing. “

DeSantis has resisted public health demands since the start of the pandemic. Despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and research showing how masks and vaccines help protect people from the coronavirus, the governor has issued decrees and lawsuits to keep these security measures optional.

The measure, which he signed in May, prohibits businesses, local governments and schools from forcing customers or patrons to show proof of vaccinations or “post-infection recovery” and imposes fines of up to $ 5,000 for each violation. Leon County, which includes Florida’s capital Tallahassee, was fined $ 3.5 million last month for vaccinating workers. The district is contesting the action.

However, organizations that violate DeSantis’ anti-mandate mandate are not only at risk of severe monetary penalties. Some of them have also been threatened by the public. Like Hannah, many remain unsure of what they can and cannot do to address the challenges posed by COVID-19.

They may clear up later this month. DeSantis convenes a special legislative session to pass a new law guaranteeing “medical freedom.”

“I will not let the heavy hand of the government force Florida residents to inject,” DeSantis tweeted on October 24, shortly before the state sued the Biden administration over a vaccine order for federal employees and contractors.

Five days later, after the FDA approved the first coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11, DeSantis tweeted again. “In Florida, our schools will not vaccinate children,” he promised. “This decision belongs to the parents.”

Lauren Poe, mayor of Gainesville Democracy, is one of the few named on the list. The city commission briefly demanded vaccines for city employees until 200 workers sued and the commissioners changed course.

An email address created by the state health department allows people to file a complaint with a business or local government about vaccine directives. Anyone can report anyone by email to [email protected], putting Titanium Yoga, Starbucks, AT&T and dozens of others on the list of possible infringers.

“I am happy to be mentioned for fighting for public health and trying to protect our employees and the neighbors we serve,” Poe said. “But either someone threw very incorrect information to the governor, or my name was entered there for political reasons. I’m not sure what exactly. “

John Yu, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said DeSantis is contradicting himself with his actions and also deviating from conservative principles.

“Many conservatives may disagree that Governor DeSantis is punishing private businesses for demanding the vaccine and preventing private owners from deciding how they want to run their business,” Yu said. what he does is that, in his opinion, companies should not threaten employees with deprivation of livelihoods. But if you believe in the free market, you would say that an employee can go to work for someone else. “

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Private businesses that ask customers for proof of coronavirus vaccinations have yet to find out if the government will lift the fines and when they will. The state has not officially notified the alleged violators. Hannah only found out that she was included in the list after the Orlando Sentinel wrote about the list at an open source request.

Three cruise lines named – Disney, Norwegian and Carnival. According to industry representative Bari Golin-Blaugrund, the state has not contacted anyone.

“We are studying the ultimate goal of the list. We have not heard that the state is going to levy fines, ”said Golin-Blaugrund, a member of the International Association of Cruise Lines. “It is important to clarify that the cruise industry operates in accordance with the law from all ports in the United States.”

In July, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings filed a lawsuit against the DeSantis administration over a “vaccine passport law” for passengers; the case is pending. Disney World, which introduced a requirement to vaccinate park workers but not guests this summer, was not on the list of potential offenders as of October 12.

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said the upcoming special session will look at actions similar to what Disney has taken with its employees.

“By the way, this is not exclusive to Disney. “There are other corporations that have employees in Florida that have introduced forced injections for their employees,” Pushaw said in an email. “Governor DeSantis has consistently stated that no one should be forced to choose between getting the jab or losing their job.”

Congressman Carlos Guillermo-Smith is a Democrat representing the Orlando area, where several businesses and arts organizations reportedly ignored the vaccine law.

“Is this a good way to follow public health policy by emailing complaints?” he said. Citing a Texas law that allows individuals to sue doctors and others who help facilitate abortion, he added, “It’s like a Republican trend of laws that encourage our residents to knock on each other.”

Guillermo-Smith said DeSantis is “currying favor with the vaccine opponents,” overseeing his re-election next year and a possible run for president in 2024.

“Small business drives our state. So why is the governor attacking their ability to stay safe and prosperous? ” he asked. “The governor and the Republicans seem to be exploring options that don’t fit the small government’s conservative ideology.”

Along with providing evidence of vaccinations, DeSantis has blocked demands for masks. School districts that continued to operate anyway received funding from the State Department of Education.

Measures in many counties went into effect this summer, just weeks before the resumption of classes, when Florida hit the biggest wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths since the pandemic began. From July 1 to October 1, the weekly number of cases reached 25,792 people. Deaths peaked at 344 people per day in September.

The Alachua County School District in north-central Florida was one of the first to issue a mask mandate for students and staff. Government education officials said the move violated the recently passed Parents Bill of Rights Act and withheld school board salaries as punishment.

The US Department of Education gave the county a grant to recover lost funds, but the state recently donated even more money. Alachua County Schools Superintendent Carly Simon says more than $ 192,000 has been withheld from government funding to date.

Simon said it was difficult to deal with the “massive pressure” coming from the governor’s office and the school’s precautionary advice she was advised to take.

“It’s clearly disturbing and it’s scary because he’s strong. The pressure is tremendous, ”Simon said. “We are doing everything we can to reduce the transmission of COVID. This is what I needed to do as superintendent, guided by the direction of my councilors. And I think this is what I had to do as a mother, as a person and as a teacher. “

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