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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A key Senate committee Thursday backed a proposal that would extend COVID-19 legal protections for hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers.

The Rules Committee voted 11-5 to approve the measure (SB 7014), sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills. The bill is now ready to go to the full Senate.

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Lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session approved shielding health providers from pandemic-related lawsuits for one year — a period that is set to expire March 29.

Burgess’ bill would extend that to June 1, 2023. Health-care providers can still face COVID-19 lawsuits, but the legal protections, for example, require a higher standard of proof for plaintiffs.

In such cases, plaintiffs have to prove “by the greater weight of the evidence that the health care provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct.”

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The bill is backed by business and health-care industry groups.

“We need to make sure that our health-care providers, while they are doing the best that they can in these very, very difficult situations, don’t have to look over their shoulder while they’re trying to keep us safe and healthy,” Burgess, a lawyer, said.

But opponents said the bill would prevent health-care providers from being held liable for treatment errors.

“You’re immunizing hospitals and health-care providers for mistakes that shouldn’t be made,” said Stephen Cain, a Miami attorney representing the Florida Justice Association trial-lawyers group.

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