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Florida's withdrawal from OSHA awaits governor's signature

Ardian Zika.jpg
Florida House of Representatives/News Service of Florida
Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O' Lakes, sponsored a bill that could lead to the state moving away from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Florida lawmakers have passed a measure that ultimately seeks to remove the state’s private-sector workers from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Now that this scheme is sort of out of the bag that we’ll use OSHA to do things that are unconstitutional — do we want to be part of that as a state?” Republican state Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters on Monday. “I don’t think we do.”

Republican lawmakers first called for withdrawing the state from OSHA after the agency issued a rule on Nov. 4 requiring workers at businesses with 100 employees or more to get vaccinated.

On Wednesday, lawmakers passed the bill and sent it to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has a week to sign it into law. It orders the governor’s office to submit a proposal for a statewide workplace safety and health plan to the legislature by Jan. 17th.

About 20 other states have some kind of workplace safety and health plan of their own. Any plan the legislature decides to implement would first require OSHA’s approval, and that could take a few years. Simpson says he estimates establishing a state plan would likely cost $20-25 million dollars

Before the OSHA rule was recently suspended, a federal judge had issued an injunction blocking it from taking effect. Simpson says the effort to move away from the federal agency’s oversight is still worthwhile. “What we do not want to do is set up an opportunity for future presidents to weaponize cabinets that will come in and do unconstitutional things, even if it’s only for a short period of time.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have blasted the effort to “withdraw” from OSHA as politically-motivated.

“We shouldn’t politicize issues in the workplace around close-toed shoes or a hard hat,” said Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando. “We’re talking about basic safety issues, where folks can work in a place where they’re not going to get hurt.”

The legislation calls for the development of a plan that would cover private-sector and public-sector workers (State and local government employees don’t fall under OSHA oversight.) But Eskamani says the goal was never to expand workplace safety protections for those workers.

“If the concern was to broaden safety standards for public-sector jobs, then there would be a conversation with public-sector unions, there would be a conversation with folks who are directly impacted about not just COVID-19, but all safety and environment issues,” Eskamani said. “That’s just not happening.”

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Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.