By Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly signed four bills into law Thursday from a special legislative session aimed primarily at preventing workers from being required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Focusing on vaccination mandates pursued by the White House, DeSantis touted the “strongest piece of legislation that’s been enacted anywhere in the country” and said Florida is “respecting people’s individual freedoms.”

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“The states are the primary vehicles to protect people’s freedoms, their health, their safety, their welfare, in our constitutional system,” DeSantis said during a bill-signing ceremony at Brandon Honda in the Hillsborough County community of Brandon. “What Biden is doing is not constitutional. There has never been a federal vaccine mandate imposed on the general public.”

DeSantis has spent months battling with the Biden administration about COVID-19 policies, and Thursday’s event was held in a community that shares a name with part of a conservative derogatory slogan about President Joe Biden — “Let’s Go Brandon.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody called the Hillsborough County community “the shining city on the hill representing freedom,” resulting in the first brief round of “Let’s go Brandon” calls during the event.

Some Brandon Honda employees, lined up behind DeSantis, held signs saying “Brandon Florida” and “Freedom has a home here.”

Asked about why Brandon was selected for the bill-signing event, DeSantis, who has referred to the Biden administration as the “Brandon administration,” replied that “Brandon, Florida is a great American city.”

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The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed the bills along almost straight party lines Wednesday during the final day of a three-day special session called by DeSantis.

The main bill (HB 1B) allows Florida private-sector workers to avoid vaccination requirements if they provide medical reasons, religious reasons or can demonstrate “COVID-19 immunity.” Also, they can be exempt if they agree to regular COVID-19 testing or agree to wear personal protective equipment. Employers could face fines up to $50,000 per violation if they don’t properly follow the law.

The bill also bars government agencies from requiring workers to be vaccinated. In addition, it reinforces a law known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to ban student mask and vaccination requirements in public schools.

The school part of the bill came after months of legal battling between the state and some school districts that required students to wear masks. Those districts have dropped mask requirements recently as COVID-19 cases have subsided, and districts have not imposed vaccination mandates.

Democrats criticized the new laws and the special session, which they decried as a waste of time and as being about DeSantis’ widely speculated White House ambitions in 2024.

“It’s a disgrace the governor chooses to call a symbol of technological and medical advancement ‘the jab’ to continue scaring people and confusing them about the effectiveness of the vaccine,” House Minority Co-Leader Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said in a statement. “We need to continue listening to public-health and medical experts to get over this pandemic and truly let Floridians prosper.”

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