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Florida's special session to limit COVID-19 vaccine, mask mandates gavels in

'Here we are in Tallahassee to plan a political game because the governor wants to run for president one day,' Rep. Anna Eskamani says
Posted at 8:27 PM, Nov 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-15 20:27:06-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Lawmakers are back in Tallahassee this week, working on bills to limit vaccine and mask mandates in the state.

Monday afternoon, they gaveled in for the governor's five-day special session to consider four pieces of legislation.

The policies would investigate how to withdraw Florida from OSHA, strip the state's health officer of authority to force vaccinations, and exempt the shot status of fired employees from public record requests.

The core legislation, and likely most consequential, is HB 1B.

John Fischer, Boca Raton, Nov. 15, 2021
Dressed in revolutionary wear, John Fischer came to Tallahassee from Boca Raton as the special session began.

If approved, public schools won't be able to require student masking or COVID-19 vaccination. The policy would also forbid local governments from enacting vaccine requirements for employees. And while private businesses could, they'd have to adhere to a list of exemptions like opt-outs for regular testing or face sizable fines.

The bills fly in the face of pending vaccine rules by the Biden administration. They're currently under legal challenge and on hold, requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated. Workers could potentially opt out with weekly testing.

Republican leadership said their efforts this week would protect individual choice from the president's plans.

Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls
Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls speaks about this week's special session.

"What is happening is this one-size-fits-all model is being thrust upon Florida by the [Biden] administration, and this is our opportunity to say, 'We're not going to abide by it,'" said House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

While the GOP controls both chambers of the legislature, many Democrats have vowed opposition to the policies. They call them dangerous and bad for businesses trying to safely reopen.

Rep. Anna Eskamani
Rep. Anna Eskamani called the special session a "political game."

"Here we are in Tallahassee to plan a political game because the governor wants to run for president one day," said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

The party's leadership said Democratic members plan to offer several bill amendments to water down the legislation. Whether it will work remains to be seen.

"What I think you'll see from us, in terms of amendments, is trying to propose some changes to these bills that'll force conversations about what we actually need to do to keep our workers safer," said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

The bills will be in committee Monday and Tuesday. Floor votes are expected in the middle of the week, meaning lawmakers could wrap up before Friday.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Nov. 1
Fentrice Driskell says they plan to fight the bills proposed by the Republican-led Legislature.