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As state cracks down, local governments say they aren't breaking vaccine passport ban

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The state law allows local governments to use "screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.”

Dozens of companies and local governments — even concerts from a pop singer and a country music band — are being investigated by the state for their vaccine requirements. State law bans so-called vaccine passports.

Concertgoers to recent Harry Styles and the Zac Brown Band shows had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. A public records request of the state Department of Health by the Orlando Sentinel found more than 100 complaints are "under review" according to the state.

These include several local governments. An airline, a cruise ship operator, a defense contractor, and a public library are on the list, too.

State law bans companies from requiring customers to be vaccinated and prohibits local governments from requiring vaccinations.

This week, the state fined Leon County $3.5 million for its vaccine policy, calling it a "blatant violation." Leon County defended its employee vaccine requirement, saying it was legally justifiable, necessary and responsible.

The Alachua County board of commissioners is among those appearing on the state's list. The county requires employees to disclose their vaccination status, and those not showing proof have to be tested weekly.

"We think it's important that we understand the risks for them as well as for those that are working with them," said Alachua County Chairman Ken Cornell.

The county has not fired any worker for not showing proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Cornell. He said compliance with its policy is 100% — either showing proof of being vaccinated or undergoing regular testing.

In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law prohibiting companies from requiring customers to be vaccinated. The law also bans local governments from "from requiring persons to provide documentation certifying vaccination against or recovery from COVID-19.”

But Cornell is not worried.

"I have absolutely no concerns or worries at all that we've done anything illegal," he said.

The city of Miramar also appears on the state list of entities targeted for their vaccination policies. Miramar is offering city hall and police employees $500 if they show proof of vaccination by Nov. 1. Afterward, the city will begin weekly testing of those who have not supplied evidence.

"We're not penalizing our employees for not being vaccinated," said Mayor Wayne Messam.

The state law allows local governments to use "screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.”

"We think that the city of Miramar being on this list," said Messam, "is not only ludicrous, but is a breach and an overreach regarding our home authority."

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.