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Florida Business Leader Hopes To See Special Session On COVID-19 Lawsuit Protections

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Associated Press
The Florida Channel
Tam Rubin, co-owner of Fireman Derek's Bake Shop, wears a protective mask and gloves as she fills a customer's order in Miami.

This week, Governor Ron DeSantis suggested he’d like to see a special session for the Florida Legislature to consider protecting small businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Bill Herrle is state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. He welcomes the idea of lawmakers visiting the issue sooner rather than later, saying businesses “urgently need reform.”

“They make decisions not just on a daily basis, but almost an hourly basis, in terms of what staff they deploy, how they direct their staff, how they recommended their staff self-quarantining and so forth,” Herrle said Wednesday. “Lots of decisions that are COVID-driven – there’s liability potential in all of those decisions. So, small business owners very much feel that someone has to have their back in that, and that has to be the state.”

Herrle says the potential for lawsuits aimed at businesses extends beyond those that might seem obvious on the surface.

“It’s not just the worst-case scenario of the lawsuit charging that someone contracted COVID at that place of business. It’s all those other decisions they make that can turn into workplace lawsuits,” he said, giving an example. “Whether you directed properly or improperly an employee to self-quarantine thus denying their ability to work. Is that some form of discrimination?

“We need to know that we can make prudent decisions to get the products and services to Floridians, and know the state has our back.”

The state legislature has a regularly-scheduled organizational session set for November. Saint Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes tweeted recently that he has a bill dealing with business protections “drafted and ready to file.”

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.