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COVID-19 liability shield bill for businesses clears Florida House

'It may be 50 lawsuits now, but if we don't do this, it'll be 50,000,' Rep. Bob Rommel says
Posted at 5:22 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 17:22:46-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Some say it is a measure to protect jobs. Others worry it will cost their freedoms. Regardless, COVID-19 liability protection for Florida businesses is moving ahead.

House lawmakers gave final approval to HB 7 Friday morning, 83-31. The vote even siphoned some support from Democrats, who have mostly been opposed to it.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, was happy to see the major GOP agenda item move so quickly.

"Obviously this is a significant piece of legislation," Sprowls said. "I think what it underscores is the need. It underscores the severity of the situation. We're trying to get Florida back on her feet. In order to do that, we need businesses to thrive."

House Speaker Chris Sprowls
House Speaker Chris Sprowls was pleased that the COVID liability protection bill passed the House Friday.

The policy shields businesses from lawsuits if a judge believes they made "a good faith effort" to follow virus protections. It also requires plaintiffs to provide a physician's affidavit indicating a COVID-19 illness resulted from a business's actions.

Supporters believed it would stem a tide of frivolous litigation -- despite few filings to date.

"It may be 50 lawsuits now, but if we don't do this it'll be 50,000 lawsuits soon," said State Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples. "Fifty-thousand and every business owner will suffer."

Rep.-Bob-Rommel.jpg
State Rep. Bob Rommel is among the supporters of the bill who believe it will stop frivolous litigation.

Opponents hammered the measure for broad language, saying it would strip employees and customers from access to the court system. Others questioned its need.

"Our small businesses are facing real problems right now -- not imagined ones," said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. "Instead of just focusing on COVID liability, we should be focused on real relief.”

The legislation next heads across the hall, where senators have been working on their version (SB 72). The policies will need to be reconciled and passed by both chambers before heading to the governor.

The House and the Senate are also working on similar bills to shield health providers from COVID liability. They are also taking priority this session and getting traction in committees.

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Data from The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.