Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that the state will punish county and city governments for requiring their employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, threatening a $5,000 fine for each violation.
DeSantis, calling it a way to “protect Florida jobs,” said at a news conference that “you don’t just cast aside people who’ve been serving faithfully over this issue – over what’s basically a personal choice on their individual health.”
The fines – which prompted a sharp backlash from local officials in counties across the state – underscore the broad Republican resistance to President Joe Biden’s latest effort to rein in the pandemic by imposing stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff.
Biden directed the Labor Department last week to require that all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week for the virus. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they don’t comply. The President also signed an executive order requiring all government employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out.
Businesses that want employees to return to work and stay at work will benefit from vaccine requirements, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said. The mandate will benefit employees as well, he added. “I believe that will not only improve public health, but it will give people some more peace of mind,” Murthy told CNN on Sunday.
But DeSantis said Monday that the mandates are a violation of a new Florida law passed during the state’s most recent legislative session that prevents private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination but also applies to government agencies.
“So if you look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, I mean that’s millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines. Orange County – many, many more than that,” DeSantis said, adding that “the net result of Biden’s policy is you’re going to have good, hardworking people lose their jobs, and they’re going to lose their jobs in very key industries.”
“I just think it’s fundamentally wrong. We should not be allowing the federal government to attack people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in a news conference Monday that although “it could be a lot of money” the county will continue to “protect the greater collective of the people in our community” in the face of DeSantis’ threat.
“I’m not going to take actions that would adversely impact the safety of our community. Sometimes, quite frankly, I question whether or not the governor really sees it that way,” Demings, a Democrat, said.
“He may say that he does, but I believe that many of the decisions he makes are purely politically motivated, and that is not how I make decisions as a crisis manager, an experienced crisis manager.”
That message was echoed by Lauren Poe, the Democratic mayor of Gainesville, where all city employees are required to show proof of vaccination by October 1 or risk termination.
“The health, safety and welfare of our city’s workforce and those we serve is our number one priority. The city has taken the steps necessary to achieve that priority and stand by that decision,” he said in a statement. “It is our belief that as an employer, we retain the right and responsibility to require vaccinations as a condition of employment.”
Leon County Administrator Vincent Long similarly said in a statement Monday that “it is necessary that I clarify that vaccinations as a condition of employment in Leon County is legal and will remain in effect. We will continue to act responsibly to ensure our operational readiness to respond to the needs of our community and to keep our employees safe.”
Florida is one of a handful of states with ICU bed capacity at less than 10%, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The national average was around 20% availability as of Thursday.
This story has been updated with additional reaction Monday.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago and Amy Simonson contributed to this report.