TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis has opened a multimillion-dollar battle against vaccine mandates, and on Thursday took the fight to the Biden administration.
The GOP governor said Florida will challenge in federal court and through legislation any vaccine mandates placed on employers or others by President Joe Biden. DeSantis’ comments follow those of Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who earlier this week banned vaccine requirements in his state.
“Let’s not have Biden come in and effectively take away — threaten to take away — the jobs of people who have been working hard throughout this entire pandemic,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Fort Myers. “I am offended that a police officer could potentially lose their job.”
Biden announced plans to issue the vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees and federal workers through the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in September. The plans immediately drew the ire from Republicans including DeSantis, who has said vaccination should be a personal choice and people who have become naturally immune to Covid-19 should be exempt from the mandate.
“I just think it’s fundamentally wrong to be taking people’s jobs away, particularly given the situations that we see ourselves facing with the economy,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis has consistently rejected Covid-related restrictions, including vaccine passports, mask mandates and lockdowns. He has continued a months-long dispute with school districts that defied his order against mask mandates, including docking the salaries of school officials who implement mask requirements without an opt-out policy for parents. That fight has also brought in the Biden administration, which has provided more than $500,000 in financial assistance to school officials.
More recently, DeSantis’s Florida Department of Health issued a $3.57 million fine against Leon County after it required hundreds of workers to get vaccines. The county fired 14 employees who refused to get the shot. Leon County Attorney Chasity O’Steen on Tuesday said the county, which has until Nov. 5 to pay the fine, is prepared to defend the mandate.
Florida over the summer was a hotbed for new infections as the Delta variant spread through the state. At one point, the state made up about 1 in 5 new coronavirus infections in the nation.
DeSantis, who is weighing a 2024 presidential bid, said Thursday that Florida-based lawsuits against federal vaccine mandates will be filed in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He also referenced the Texas ban, which is filing challenges in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Many school districts and cities in Florida have bowed to the governor’s orders. The city of Gainesville rescinded its vaccine mandate last month after facing threats from DeSantis, and more than 100 employees filed a lawsuit against the municipality in state circuit court. DeSantis said some of the city’s police officers were about to be fired.
“They were not given the ability to work from home, they didn’t get to Zoom in to protect us and kind of work to protect the public on Zoom, you got to be out there,” DeSantis said. “They were there the entire time.”