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'Completely Ridiculous': Senate President Takes Aim At COVID 'Passports'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
The Florida Channel
Simpson said he was not opposed to offering advantages to customers with proof of vaccination, such as the Miami Heat offering “VIP” seats to vaccinated fans.

Sen. Wilton Simpson's strongest comments on the issue so far come amid calls from the cruise industry to require proof of vaccination after ships have been docked more than a year because of the pandemic.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson made clear Wednesday he supports banning COVID-19 “passports” that would prove people have been vaccinated, despite calls from the cruise industry to allow their use after ships have been docked for more than a year because of the pandemic.

“It would be completely ridiculous,” Simpson, R-Trilby, told reporters when asked about the passports, which have become a hot-button political issue for Republicans. “What’s next? If we have a vaccine passport, what all vaccines are we going to require on that passport? And so we have certain freedoms in this country that shouldn’t be breached, and I think that’s one of them.”

Cruise lines have been trying to begin operating again after high-profile outbreaks aboard ships early in the pandemic. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Monday that all staff members and travelers be vaccinated before going on cruise ships but did not mandate vaccinations. CDC guidance will mandate that masks be worn on board.

But many cruise lines already have instituted policies in hopes of sailing again soon, with such policies requiring staff members and passengers to be vaccinated. The policies run afoul of an executive order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued last week banning the use of COVID-19 passports.

DeSantis also said he wants the Republican-led Legislature to pass a bill to permanently ban use of the passports. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, proposed an amendment to a bill this week in the Senate Rules Committee to ban passports but then withdrew the proposal.

Simpson said he has not heard from businesses that have asked to be exempt from potential legislation to ban the passports.

But Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava issued a statement Wednesday calling the cruise ship industry a “cornerstone of Miami-Dade’s economy” and said she looked forward to “working with the governor to ensure that his executive order doesn’t place undue regulations on the cruise industry, as they work hard to prepare for a safe reopening that protects the well-being of travelers and workers alike.”

Simpson said he was not opposed to offering advantages to customers with proof of vaccination, such as the Miami Heat basketball team offering “VIP” seats to vaccinated fans. Vaccinated guests and fans do not need to be scanned by COVID-19 detection dogs or undergo rapid testing, unless they are seated within 30 feet of the court.

“I think a private arrangement with a business that says, ‘If you have one, we give you VIP’ is different from saying, ‘You have to have it to take a cruise,’” Simpson said. “Our bill, I assume, will ban the notion that you have to have it. But if you entice me to have it, say, ‘Well, you get certain VIP conditions if you do have one,’ well, then, maybe I’ll produce one. But that would be a private person with their private information disclosing it to that private business.”

Simpson’s comments were his strongest to date on the issue. When initially asked about passports last month Sinmpson told reporters that private businesses should be able to operate as they see fit.

“On the surface, I would say ‘yes’ because they are a private business.” Simpson said when asked if businesses should be able to require customers to have passports. “They can do what they want. But, clearly, they will bear the responsibility of that decision.”

As of Wednesday, Florida had totaled 2,096,747 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, and 33,822 residents had died, according to state data.

DeSantis’s order prevents Florida businesses from requiring customers to show documentation that they have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 before gaining entrance. The order directs state agencies --- such as the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulate bars and restaurants and nursing homes and hospitals, respectively --- to “work to ensure businesses comply with this order.”

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida