- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A proposal to blunt coronavirus vaccine mandates in Florida businesses inched closer to becoming law Wednesday, with House Republicans approving the bill over objections that they were sacrificing public health to serve the political ambitions of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

House lawmakers passed the bill on a party line vote after lengthy debate where Republicans said they were protecting workers from being fired over vaccination status and federal virus mandates.

“It’s just mind-blowing most days to think that it is an acceptable position to hold that another person will get to make the health care decision about whether or not to be vaccinated, that an employer would get to make a health care decision for their employee,” said Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican.

DeSantis, a Republican, called lawmakers into the special legislative session to pass the measure as part of an ongoing feud with the White House over vaccine mandates. The governor has gained national prominence in the GOP over his opposition to lockdowns and other virus precautions as he runs for reelection and eyes a 2024 presidential bid.

The legislation would prevent private businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear. Schools and governments in the state would be barred from having COVID-19 vaccine mandates under the measures.

The Republican-controlled Senate is set to take up the bills later Wednesday.

Democrats have repeatedly slammed the legislative package as political theater meant to serve DeSantis.

“Does this bill truly attempt to keep Floridians safe, or was it crafted to kick off a presidential campaign for our governor?” asked Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat.

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