By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — With Republicans angry about a vaccination rule issued by the federal Occupational and Safety and Health Administration, the Florida House on Wednesday approved a proposal that could lead to the state taking over regulation of worker safety and health issues.
The GOP-controlled House voted 76-38 along almost straight party lines to pass a bill (HB 5B) that would direct Gov. Ron DeSantis to develop a plan for the state to move away from OSHA oversight. The Senate also is expected to pass the bill before adjourning a special legislative session that started Monday.
House bill sponsor Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes, pointed to the OSHA vaccination rule, which was issued this month and would apply to employers with 100 or more workers. Those workers would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative at least once a week and wear masks.
DeSantis and other Republicans have argued the rule will lead to workers losing jobs if they don’t comply.
“Forced firing of Floridians is not the Florida way,” Zika said. “It is not the role of government to pick and choose which employee is fired.”
But Democrats said lawmakers should not have taken up the issue during the special session, as it is not urgent.
“This is special session, and this bill ain’t special,” Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, said.
Under the bill, DeSantis would have to report back to the Legislature by Jan. 17 about efforts to put together the plan. Ultimately, the federal government would have to sign off on a state plan before it could move forward. Zika said this week that the process could take two to three years.
If the plan moves forward in the future, Florida would join numerous other states that regulate worker safety and health.
A House analysis said 21 states and Puerto Rico operate plans that cover private and government employees. Another five states and the U.S. Virgin Islands operate plans that cover government employees, according to the analysis.
But the idea emerged in Florida after OSHA issued the vaccination rule, which would take effect Jan. 4. Florida joined Georgia and Alabama in filing a federal-court challenge to the rule. That challenge was consolidated Tuesday with similar cases across the country and will be heard in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, was the only House member to cross party lines on the bill Wednesday, joining Republicans in support. Other Democrats pointed to political motivations of Republicans.
“If you are trying to make a point, congratulations, you did it,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.
But Zika said Florida would be better situated to oversee worker safety and health issues.
“Florida knows Florida better than Washington, D.C. will ever know Florida,” he said.