- Associated Press - Thursday, November 18, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Private businesses in Florida will be forced to let workers opt out of coronavirus vaccine mandates after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping legislative package Thursday to combat federal requirements.

DeSantis, a Republican, signed the bills into law at a car dealership in the Tampa suburb of Brandon, embracing a coded stand-in for swearing at President Joe Biden that has become popular in right-wing circles.

“We’re making sure that people have a right to earn a living, people have a right to have protections in their place of employment and that parents have protections to be able to direct the upbringing of their kids,” DeSantis said.

The bill signing closes a special legislative session called by DeSantis as he continues a campaign against vaccine mandates pushed by the White House. The governor, who is running for reelection and eyeing a potential 2024 presidential run, has become one of the nation’s most prominent Republicans through his opposition to lockdowns and other virus rules.

The new law prevents 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. The state health department, which is led by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who opposes mandates, will be tasked with defining standards for the exemptions.

The measure also includes fines for businesses that fire a worker without allowing the exemptions. Additionally, it bars schools and governments from having vaccine mandates and allows parents to sue schools with masking requirements.

Democrats have criticized the bills as politically motivated and dangerous to public health.

“Laissez-faire epidemiology and outright disinformation have contributed to Florida’s horrific death toll, and it’s shameful that some choose to politicize an epidemic for their own ambition,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat.

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