CLEARWATER (CBSMiami/NSF) – Governor Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he is calling the legislature into a Special Session to deal with federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and protect Florida’s federal employees who don’t want a vaccine, particularly as a condition of employment.

DeSantis, appearing at a rally in Clearwater with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, called the vaccine mandates unjust, detrimental to the economy and people’s livelihoods and utterly wrong.

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DeSantis said that while he and Attorney General Ashley Moody build a case to legally contest any federal mandates, the state can’t wait until the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January, to “strengthen” state laws.

“We want to make sure that individuals in Florida have their livelihoods and their jobs protected,” said DeSantis.

The governor also said businesses that have mandated the vaccine for employees should be held accountable if those who take the vaccine suffer illness or injury.

“We have the responsibility to stand up for people’s individual rights and individual freedoms,” DeSantis said. “We have a responsibility to stand up for these important constitutional freedoms, stand against federal overreach and then make sure that our economy is able to function because I can tell you, if these airline workers get fired, you’re gonna see huge interruptions in Florida’s economy.”

Watch: CBS4’s Jessica Vallejo’s report


 

Moody said her office “will push back against these unlawful and unwise mandates.”

This is the latest action taken by DeSantis in his  ongoing fight with the White House over COVID restrictions.

“I want a state in which people are able to maintain their livelihoods and earn a living and provide for their families. And if there’s things that are happening either from the federal government or from big corporations that are that are hurting that, that are hurting people, then we have a responsibility to step up and lead and step up and act and so that’s what we’re doing here,” said the governor. “And I hope that just the fact that we’re going into special session will maybe, that’ll serve as a wakeup call, because I think some of these people that are doing these are doing it because they feel pressured to do it, and I don’t know why, but I think that some of them feel like this is something that just have to do. Well now, in Florida, they’re going to know that actually, we should be protecting these jobs. That’s the policy of the state of Florida.”

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House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, sent a memo to members advising them of the pending special session. “At this time, we have not received the dates or details regarding any proposed call,” Sprowls wrote. “We are in communication with the governor’s office and our partners in the Senate, and we will share details with you as they emerge.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to be in Tallahassee for committee meetings the weeks of Nov. 1, Nov. 15 and Nov. 29. Democrats immediately blasted DeSantis’ announcement.

“This is a purely self-serving political ploy by the governor, once again pulling out all the stops to appease — and encourage — extremist positions that fly in the face of science and public health instead of protecting our children, our communities, and our economy,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor next year, said in a prepared statement.

CBS4’s Peter D’Oench spoke with Kim Coe, the owner of Kim’s Valet Cleaners in Miami since 1985. She said she has always urged her 11 employees to get vaccinated and so far none of them have contracted COVID.

“I did not require it because we are all smart and we know we should be vaccinated,” she said. “We do it to protect ourselves and the many people we are serving. This is for their safety.”

Coincidentally hours after the Governor spoke, the Miami-Dade Mayor and the Health Foundation of South Florida, and a coalition of Chambers of Commerce all called on small business owners to encourage employees to get vaccinated.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said, “What we are doing here is working. We are bringing down our positivity rate and our hospitalizations. Let us keep doing what we are doing. Vaccines are the only way to protect us from this massive spread of the disease. When you are vaccinated, your chances of going to the hospital and dying are down to just a small percent.”

She did not criticize the Governor saying, “We do not mandate vaccines. We told our employees we would like them to be vaccinated and that is the way they attest for their safety and their co worker’s safety.”

Alfred Sanchez, the President, and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce said, “It is time to get this disease behind us and get back to being fully open and helping our economy. We found 67 percent of our businesses were severely impacted and that meant half of them had to lay off half of their staff or more and 12 percent were closed indefinitely. Today we have 33 percent fully impacted with 41 percent not back to the office. Stability is a key factor for small business.”

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Peter D'Oench