Florida fines county over $3.5 million for COVID vaccine mandate
Information about Florida fines county over $3.5 million for COVID vaccine mandate
Gov. Ron DeSantis has made good on his threat to fine local governments that require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, giving Leon County, Florida until Nov. 5 to pay a $3.57 million penalty.
After Leon County Administrator Vince Long made vaccines a requirement of employment, all 714 employees had to get vaccinated or fall under a select few exemptions by Oct. 1. In all, 14 employees were fired because they declined to do so.
In an Oct. 6 violation notice from the Florida Department of Health, Division Director Douglas Woodlief notified Long of the fine to be assessed in violation of state law.
In mid-September, DeSantis said he would not let Floridians be fired because of a vaccine mandate and announced he would begin leveling $5,000 fines per employee.
“It is unacceptable that Leon County violated Florida law, infringed on current and former employees’ medical privacy, and fired loyal public servants because of their personal health decisions,” he said in a statement Tuesday through spokeswoman Taryn Fenske. “Governor DeSantis will continue fighting for Floridians’ rights and the Florida Department of Health will continue to enforce the law.”
Long in an interview Tuesday maintained that the decision represented the safest path forward to protect employees and citizens. The county is “taking all of the legal steps necessary to defend the position we’ve taken in the interest of public health,” he said.
“It’s obvious to me that the governor’s position here is political strategy which has nothing to do with the positions we’ve taken. The governor’s response to that is unfortunate, and we plan to assert our legal rights to support the actions we’ve taken, which we believe are not only completely legally justifiable but are the most responsible thing we could do in this case in keeping with all of the public health guidance.”
Democratic lawmakers representing Tallahassee admonished the decision to impose a fine as an overreach by the governor’s office.
“The governor has gone too far,” said state Rep. Ramon Alexander. “Local governments cannot just sit on their hands and should have the ability to issue emergency standards. Vaccines are an important tool that is helping us control this pandemic.”
State Rep. Allison Tant said she fully expected the courts to be supportive of home rule in Leon County’s decision on how to govern its workforce.
“While cases in Leon have started to decrease, the pandemic is not over and it is important that our Florida counties have the authority to protect their citizens as they see fit,” Tant said in a statement. “I anticipate the courts will be deciding this and will support Leon County’s fight against this overreach of state government.”
State Sen. Loranne Ausley pointed to the more than 56,000 Floridians who have died of coronavirus and said it was “unbelievable” DeSantis was spending time punishing counties as they try to keep citizens safe.
“We don’t need the State bullying our communities or private businesses who are simply trying to serve the people and get on the other side of this pandemic,” she said.
DeSantis himself tweeted about the fines.
“No one should lose their job because of COVID shots,” he wrote. “We must protect the jobs of Floridians and preserve the ability of Floridians to make their own decisions regarding what shots to take.”
The move by DeSantis also caught the eye of the White House Tuesday.
President Joe Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said vaccination requirement have been in place for decades in Florida and in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott barred vaccine mandates in the public and private sectors on Tuesday.
She said the decision to staunchly oppose them for the coronavirus “puts these two leaders out of step with both longtime requirements, a history of vaccine mandates, but also many business leaders in their states.”
Leon County Attorney Chasity O’Steen has reviewed the mandate and said it is in accordance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the county’s legal ability to require vaccinations.
Contact Karl Etters at [email protected] or @KarlEtters on Twitter.