Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis called on state lawmakers to make permanent existing penalties for companies that require all employees get the Covid-19 vaccination, his latest move to curtail pandemic mitigation efforts.
The proposal would extend indefinitely measures DeSantis signed in 2021 that made Florida the first state in the country to threaten businesses with fines if they required workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Those measures pitted DeSantis and Florida against the federal government over President Joe Biden’s efforts to get the country’s workforce inoculated – a standoff that helped boost the Republican governor’s popularity among conservatives.
Now, as DeSantis considers running for president, he is reinstigating that battle.
This time, DeSantis has encouraged skepticism of Covid-19 vaccines altogether, staking out a position far to the right of his top potential rival for the GOP nomination, former President Donald Trump, who continues to count the development of the vaccines as one of his administration’s chief accomplishments.
“They were wrong about lockdowns,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “They were wrong about mask mandates. They were wrong about school closures. They were wrong about mRNA shots. They were wrong about vax passports and vaccine mandates.”
DeSantis wants to make permanent laws passed in November 2021 after he called a special session in response to the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate. Those measures, scheduled to expire at the end of June, included prohibitions on mask requirements in schools and government and prohibited vaccines as a condition to travel.
DeSantis had called on lawmakers to ban vaccine mandates outright and inflict punitive penalties on businesses that didn’t comply and threatened to pull state protections against Covid-19-related businesses to any company that followed Biden’s mandate. But the Republican-controlled legislature wouldn’t go that far. Instead, the bill that ended up on DeSantis’ desk said businesses could require vaccination as a condition of employment if workers are allowed to opt-out through a medical or religious exemption, proof of natural immunity or by submitting to regular testing for Covid-19.
It’s not clear if DeSantis would extend the existing limitations on vaccine requirements or if he is suggesting new legislation that would ban any business from making vaccines a condition of employment.
In addition to proposing permanent prohibitions on strict mask and vaccine mandates, DeSantis also wants to prevent doctors from losing their medical license if they stake out positions that contradict medical consensus. During Tuesday’s event in Panama City Beach, DeSantis welcomed to the stage a local dermatologist who has spread unsubstantiated Covid-19 conspiracies on Twitter.
“We want to have our medical practitione …