Lawmakers will address vaccine mandates in the upcoming Special Session.
Florida business interests are starting to raise red flags over a bill that would discourage companies from requiring their employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Three days before lawmakers are slated to meet in a Special Session, a statewide nursing home association said the Legislature should consider altering the proposal (HB 1 and SB 2) to carve long-term care providers out of the vaccine mandate ban.
In a statement Friday, Leading Age Florida CEO Steve Bahmer said nursing homes must comply with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid rules that require staff at health care facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid to be vaccinated as a condition of receiving federal health care dollars.
Those rules require staff get their first vaccine by Dec. 5 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 2, 2022. While Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he would challenge the CMS rules, the state has not done so to date. Ten other states did file a lawsuit against the rule on Thursday.
“Nursing homes must comply with the federal rule because the federal law trumps state law. The loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding would be devastating to providers and could ultimately displace Florida’s most frail elders,” Bahmer said. “We cannot penalize long-term care providers who serve the state’s most vulnerable population and that have borne the greatest impact from this pandemic.”
The bills would prohibit employers from having a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees without providing staff five options to opt-out, including exceptions for pregnancies or expected pregnancies; religious reasons; or immunity based on prior COVID-19 infection as determined by a lab test. The bills would also allow staff who are willing to undergo periodic testing (at the employer’s cost) and staff who are willing to wear personal protective equipment to opt-out of vaccines.
Employers that fire staff for refusing to get vaccinated could face fines of up to $50,000, or they could avoid the fines by reinstating the fired employees. The Florida Department of Health, meanwhile, would be empowered to levy upward of $5,000 in fines against public employers who violate the law.
Bahmer said providers cannot be in compliance with both the state and federal guidelines unless lawmakers exempt health care providers.
Leading Age Florida, which represents continuing care retirement communities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, isn’t alone in its concerns.
The National Federation of Independent Business Florida issued a statement Friday saying it wanted the Legislature to include in the bills a “clear-cut definition” of what constitutes a business vaccine mandate.
NFIB Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle told Florida Politics his group believes vaccine mandates should include “deliberate actions on the part of a business owner.” Herrle said his organization currently is talking to legislators about what NFIB Florida would like to see added to the bill to assuage the association’s concerns.
“I don’t want to comment without saying that we appreciate Gov. Ron DeSantis pushing back on the vaccine mandate,” he said, adding that NFIB policy center has challenged the federal mandate in court.
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