Florida businesses, cities and schools risk big fines for defying the governor with pandemic mandates


JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— Ashley Hanna didn’t intend to defy Gov.Ron DeSantis when she offered vaccine-only classes at her yoga studio.But to accommodate clients who were worried about the coronavirus as the delta variant was burning through Florida, she expanded her weekly schedule to include two sessions reserved for people vaccinated against the virus.Get the full experience.Choose…

imageJACKSONVILLE, Fla.— Ashley Hanna didn’t intend to defy Gov.Ron DeSantis when she offered vaccine-only classes at her yoga studio.But to accommodate clients who were worried about the coronavirus as the delta variant was burning through Florida, she expanded her weekly schedule to include two sessions reserved for people vaccinated against the virus.Get the full experience.

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“We’re a small business, and there are some clients who, if we didn’t have these classes, we would lose them,” said Hanna, who owns Titanium Yoga in Ponte Vedra Beach, south of Jacksonville.

“We wanted to give people a choice.”That decision put Hanna on a list of more than 100 businesses and local governments reported to the state as violating a Florida law championed by DeSantis against vaccine requirements.The governor’s critics say his actions are only empowering aggrieved anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers.Hanna went from being grateful for the Republican leader’s light touch with shutdowns during the pandemic — he issued a stay-at-home order in April 2020 and ended it after one month — to being concerned and confused.She could face fines of more than $100,000.“I literally thank God that I opened a business in the state of Florida.If we had to shut down for a long time, we would have never made it,” she said recently.

“But I don’t understand this.If I required a vaccine just to walk in the front door, ‘Okay, Ashley, you are defying the governor.’ But that’s not what I did; that’s not what I’m doing.”DeSantis has resisted public health mandates from the start of the pandemic.

Despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and studies showing how masks and vaccines help protect people from the coronavirus, the governor has issued executive orders and filed lawsuits to keep those safeguards optional.A measure he signed into law in May bans businesses, local governments and schools from making customers or patrons show proof of vaccination or “post-infection recovery” and imposes penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.Last month, the state hit Leon County, which includes Florida’s capital of Tallahassee, with a $3.5 million fine over its vaccine mandate for workers.The county is contesting the action.Yet entities that run afoul of DeSantis’s anti-mandate mandates are not only risking hefty monetary punishments.

Some have also been targeted with threats from the public.Like Hanna, many remain unsure of what they can and can’t do to address covid worries.They may get some clarity later this month.DeSantis is convening a special legislative session to pass a new law ensuring “medical freedom.”“I will not let the heavy hand of government force Floridians to take a shot,” DeSantis tweeted on Oct.

24, shortly before the state sued the Biden administration over its vaccine order for federal employees and contractors.Five days later, after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, DeSantis tweeted again.“In Florida, there will be no vaccine mandate for children in our schools,” he pledged.

“This is a decision that belongs to parents.”An email address created by the state health department allows people to file a complaint against a business or local government over vaccine directives.

Anyone can report anybody to [email protected], which is how Titanium Yoga, Starbucks, AT&T and dozens of others ended up on a list of possible violators.Lauren Poe, the Democratic mayor of Gainesville, is one of the few individuals named on the list.The city commission briefly had a vaccine requirement for city employees until 200 workers sued and the commissioners reversed course.“I am happy to be a person mentioned for standing up for public health and trying to protect our employees and the neighbors we serve,” Poe said.“But either someone fed the governor very incorrect information, or my name was just put in there for political reasons.

I’m not sure which.”John Yoo, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said DeSantis is contradicting himself through his actions as well as straying from conservative principles.“A lot of conservatives might not agree with Gov.DeSantis penalizing private businesses for requiring vaccines, and for interfering with the way private owners decide how they want to run their business,” Yoo said.“The governor might say the reason he’s doing this is because he thinks businesses shouldn’t threaten employees with losing their livelihoods.But if you believe in free markets, then you’d say, the employee could go work for someone else.”Private businesses that are asking customers for proof of coronavirus vaccination have yet to learn if or when the state will carry through on the fines.The state hasn’t officially notified the reported violators.Hanna only found out she was included after the Orlando Sentinel wrote about the list following a public records request.Three cruise lines — Disney, Norwegian and Carnival — are named.None has been contacted by the state, according to industry spokeswoman Bari Golin-Blaugrund.“We’re looking into the ultimate purpose of the list.We have not heard that the state is going to levy fines,” said Golin-Blaugrund, who is with the Cruise Lines International Association.

“It’s important to clarify that the cruise industry is operating in accordance with the law from all ports across the U.S.”Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings sued the DeSantis administration in July over the “vaccine passport law” for passengers; the case is pending.Disney World, which this summer issued a vaccine requiremen t for park workers but not guests, was not on the list of potential violators as of Oct 12.DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said the upcoming special session will address actions like the one Disney took with its employees.“This is not specific to Disney, by the way.There are other corporations with employees in Florida that have forced injection requirements for their workers,” Pushaw said in an email.

“Governor DeSantis has consistently said that nobody should be forced to choose between getting a jab or losing their job.”State Rep.Carlos Guillermo-Smith (D) represents the Orlando area, where several businesses and arts organizations were reported as having ignored the vaccine law.“Is that a good way to guide public health policy, by email complaints?” he said.And in a reference to a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue doctors and others who help facilitate abortions, he added, “It’s like there’s a Republican trend of passing laws that encourage our residents to snitch on each other.”DeSantis is “currying favor with the anti-vax crowd,” with an eye on his reelection bid next year and a possible 2024 run for president, Guillermo-Smith charged.“Small businesses drive our state.So why is the governor attacking their ability to stay safe and prosperous?” he asked.“The governor and Republicans appear to be exploring options that don’t align with the small government conservative ideology.”Along with targeting proof of vaccination, DeSantis has blocked mask mandates .School districts that proceeded anyway have had funding withheld by the state education department.Many districts’ measures took effect this summer, just weeks before classes were set to resume, when Florida was hit with its worst wave of covid infections and deaths since the pandemic began.Between July 1 and Oct.

1, the weekly case count went as high as 25,792.Deaths peaked at 344 a day in September.The Alachua County School District in north-central Florida was among the first to issue a mask mandate for students and staff.State education officials said the move violated a recently passed “ parents bill of rights ” law and withheld school board salaries as a punishment.The U.S.

Department of Education gave the district a grant to make up for the lost funds, but the state recently deducted even more money.More than $192,000 in state funding has been withheld to date, Alachua County Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said.Simon said it’s been difficult to navigate the “powerful pressures” coming from the governor’s office and the precautions school board members told her to enact.“It’s obviously concerning, and it’s scary, because he’s powerful.There is an enormous amount of pressure,” Simon said.“We’re doing everything we can to reduce the transmission of covid.

It’s what I needed to do as a superintendent taking direction from my board members.And I think it’s what I needed to do as a mother, and a human being, and an educator.” As some police fight vaccine rules, DeSantis says Florida will pay them $5,000 to relocate: ‘We’ll treat you better’ Coronavirus ravaged Florida, as Ron DeSantis sidelined scientists and followed Trump New Florida order makes quarantine optional for asymptomatic children exposed to virus.

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