The State of Florida threw the book at a Tallahassee county administration who defied Senate-passed legislation banning vaccine passports with a hefty $3.5 million fine.
The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) levied the penalty against Leon County as a result of 714 counts of violating a Florida statute that forbids government agencies from requiring employees to “provide documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination in order to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity’s operations in this state.”
Each count was levied a $5,000 fine.
The news was announced in a letter from the FDOH to the Leon County Administrator, stating the County had required 714 employees to disclose their vaccination status, terminating 14 who refused to comply.
In July, Leon County required all staff to accept a COVID injection by Oct. 1 on penalty of termination.
In May, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 2006 (SB2006) into law, described on the Governor’s website as taking aim at “arbitrary lockdowns, vaccine passports and enhances emergency preparedness for future emergencies.”
SB2006 also stops both the State and local governments from forcing businesses to close, preventing in-person instruction at schools, grants the Governor the power to nullify local emergency orders, and codifies a prohibition against vaccine passports that DeSantis originally enacted via executive order.
ABC affiliate WTXL Tallahassee reported that the Administrator, Vincent Long, claimed his office was made aware of the fine “by way of media reports.”
The letter posted on the FDOH website is dated Oct. 6 and says it was sent by USPS certified mail. The tracking number included in the letter reads it was picked up from an address located in Tallahassee on Oct. 6 and is “In Transit, Arriving Late” as of Oct. 11, with no further updates.
Long further characterized the County’s vaccine passport requirement as “not only completely legally justifiable,” but as a “necessary and responsible action.” He characterized the fine as “less of a public health strategy and more about political strategy” while vowing to challenge the penalty, which must be paid within 30 days.
The County has a population of approximately 293,000 people. USA Facts says Leon County has suffered 49,917 positive PCR tests and 332 COVID-19 associated deaths since the pandemic began. In August, it registered a peak of almost 2,500 new cases on a single day, but maintained a seven-day average of less than 350.
On Sept. 13, DeSantis openly challenged the news of Leon County’s vaccination requirement, “We are going to protect Florida jobs. We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate…And so you don’t just cast aside people who’ve been serving faithfully over this issue over, what’s basically a personal choice on their individual health. We cannot let these folks be cast aside.”
“We cannot allow their jobs to be destroyed and their families and livelihoods, potentially, to be destroyed as well.”
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said in a press release by his Department announcing the fine that, “Firing hard working employees over vaccine passports has real and lasting consequences. It leads to resentment in the workplace, and loss of employment impacts individual and public health.”
“Individuals have every right to choose how to best protect themselves and their families, and the Department will continue to enforce this law.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order on Oct. 11, likewise outlawing vaccine passports in his state. The Order in its preamble reads, “In yet another instance of federal overreach, the Biden Administration is now bullying many private entities into imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, causing workforce disruptions that threaten Texas’ s continued recovery from the COVID- 19 disaster.”
“Countless Texans fear losing their livelihoods because they object to receiving a COVID- 1 9 vaccination for reasons of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.”
The Order stated, “No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.”
In comments on the Governor’s website, Abbott said, “The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced.”