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Legislators' vote could lead to the state taking over regulation of worker health and safety

 Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O' Lakes
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O' Lakes, sponsored a bill that could lead to the state moving away from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

As Florida legislators closed out their special session, one of the votes could lead to the state taking over regulations normally overseen by OSHA.

Florida lawmakers Wednesday passed a measure that could lead to the state taking over regulation of worker safety and health issues and ending oversight by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Republican-controlled House voted 76-38 along almost straight party lines to pass a bill (HB 5B) that directs Gov. Ron DeSantis to develop a plan for the potential change. The Senate early Wednesday evening gave final passage in a 23-13 party-line vote.

The proposal came after OSHA this month issued a COVID-19 vaccination rule that 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 would lead to workers losing jobs if they don’t comply.

“Forced firing of Floridians is not the Florida way,” House sponsor Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes, said Wednesday. “It is not the role of government to pick and choose which employee is fired.”

But as lawmakers moved forward with the bill, OSHA announced that it would comply with an order by a federal appeals court to put the rule on hold while legal challenges continue.

“While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the (rule) pending future developments in the litigation,” the federal agency said.

The House and Senate votes came as lawmakers finished a three-day legislative session that focused on combating vaccination mandates. Democrats said lawmakers should not have taken up the OSHA issue during the special session, as it was 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 and Senate sponsor Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, said the process could take 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 has been put on hold after an order by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Florida joined Georgia and Alabama in filing a federal-court challenge to the rule. That challenge was consolidated Tuesday with similar cases from 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 Democrat who supported the bill Wednesday, with other Democrats pointing 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.

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Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.