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New federal vaccination requirements likely to fuel Florida debate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in front of a podium that says Early ahead of a Broward Health background
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen at a news conference in September.

TALLAHASSEE --- The Biden administration Thursday moved forward with COVID-19 vaccination requirements for employees of large businesses and health-care workers, adding fuel to a debate that will be on display in Florida during a special legislative session this month.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued rules that will fully take effect on Jan. 4.

The OSHA rule will apply to employers with 100 or more workers. It will require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative at least once a week --- a measure that will cover 84 million workers nationally, according to a White House estimate.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a prepared statement. “We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule will apply to workers at health-care facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes, that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Workers in the facilities will have to show they have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 5 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

The agency said the rule will apply to about 17 million health-care workers across the country.

“Today’s action addresses the risk of unvaccinated health-care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health-care system to strengthen the health of people and the providers who care for them,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a prepared statement.

The Biden administration had earlier announced it would require vaccinations at large employers and health-care facilities, but Thursday’s rules filled in the details. Also, it said a deadline for requiring employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated has been pushed back from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4 to correspond with the new rules.

The release of the rules came less than two weeks before Florida lawmakers will hold a special session that Gov. Ron DeSantis called to push back against vaccination requirements and other COVID-19 mandates. The state also has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the vaccination requirement for employees of federal contractors.

DeSantis vowed Thursday morning to also challenge the new federal requirements.

“At what point does the federal government have the limit to their power, if they can just go ahead and impose this on the entire private economy through an executive fiat?" DeSantis said during an appearance in Jacksonville. "That’s not the way our constitutional system is set up."

Bills have not emerged for the special session, which will start Nov. 15. But DeSantis’ formal proclamation calling the session requested such things as legislation to protect “current and prospective employees against unfair discrimination” on the basis of their vaccination status; legislation to ensure that people who are denied jobs because of their vaccination status are eligible for unemployment compensation; and legislation to ensure that any people injured by work-related COVID-19 vaccinations are covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

DeSantis also called for setting aside a “sufficient amount of funds to investigate complaints regarding COVID-19 vaccination mandates and to take legal action against such mandates, including mandates imposed by the federal government.”

During the appearance Thursday in Jacksonville, DeSantis, widely mentioned as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said "people should not be in a situation where they're faced with the jab or their jobs."

--- Assignment Manager Tom Urban and staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this report.

Jim Saunders / News Service of Florida
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