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Here’s what NE Florida lawmakers are doing at this week’s special legislative session

Aaron Bean
Rebecca Blackwell
Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, who represents Nassau County and part of Duval County, filed one of the four bills governing vaccine mandates.

Lawmakers are taking up four bills this week aimed at stopping COVID vaccine mandates during a special session touted by Gov. Ron DeSantis as an attempt to “protect Florida jobs.” House Democrats have called the session political theater.

Of the four bills, two were filed by state senators from Northeast Florida. Meanwhile, some local Democrats have been trying to amend the proposals, largely failing against the Legislature’s Republican supermajority.

Banning surgeon general from mandating vaccines

Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, who represents Nassau County and part of Duval County, is the primary sponsor of a bill that would bar the state’s surgeon general from requiring vaccinations during a public health emergency. The bill doesn’t mention COVID specifically and would ban vaccine requirements in all current and future public health emergencies. The state Department of Health is still able to mandate exams, testing and quarantine under the proposal.

Sen. Keith Perry, who represents parts of Alachua, Putnam and Marion counties, is cosponsoring that attempt. The plan cleared the first hurdle in the state Senate Monday in a 7-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

An identical bill moving through the state House this week is cosponsored by Duval-area Republican representatives Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough. The bill passed its first House committee Monday in a 13-7 vote.

Replacing OSHA with state agency

Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, who represents parts of Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties, is sponsoring a bill that would start the process of shifting workplace safety oversight from the federal government to the state government in Florida. Perry, also a Republican, is cosponsoring the bill.

Currently, at least 20 states have federally approved plans to oversee workplace safety in both private and government workplaces, according to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under the proposal the legislature is considering this week, a million dollars would be allocated to the governor's office to draft a plan for local control to send to OSHA.

Meanwhile, Duval Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon has been trying unsuccessfully to amend that plan. The state House shot down all three of Nixon’s amendments Tuesday morning, including one that would have required a community advisory board in the state’s OSHA plan.

The bill also cleared preliminary committees in both the House and Senate on Monday.

Prohibiting vaccine mandates at work

No Northeast Florida lawmakers are sponsoring the two other bills up for debate this week. One of the bills bans employers from requiring COVID vaccines and authorizes the state attorney general to fine employers that do.

If it passes, the bill would put Florida law in direct opposition to President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.

The vaccine mandate proposal also includes a clause barring school districts from mandating facial coverings. That would make the part of the Department of Health's Sept. 22 emergency rule that Duval Schools and five other districts have been challenging in court, a permanent law.

Nixon has tried to amend the bill. One amendment, requiring employees to get a doctor's signature to get a medical vaccine exemption, was withdrawn. An amendment that would fund an education campaign about the dangers of being unvaccinated while pregnant is up for debate Tuesday.

The bill passed both the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Commerce Committee on Monday.

Scrubbing complaints from public record

The last proposal soaring through the state’s Republican-dominated legislative committees would exempt employee complaints about workplace vaccine requirements from the state’s public records laws.

The bill passed the House Commerce Committee by a 16-7 vote and its initial Senate committee on Monday.