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House Adds COVID-19 'Passport' Ban To Local Emergency Bill

 Rep. Tom Leek
News Service of Florida
Rep. Tom Leek

A House committee Monday approved a proposal that would limit local emergency orders and make permanent Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order barring COVID-19 “passports” that would show people have been vaccinated.

The Health & Human Services Committee voted 14-8 to support a revised proposal (HB 7047) intended to “minimize the negative effects of extended emergencies.”

The most prominent change Monday was adding rules that would prevent government agencies from issuing COVID-19 passports and bar Florida businesses from requiring customers to show documentation that they have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.

Bill sponsor Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, called a passport system government overreach.

“If you accept, as I do, the media reports that our minority communities have the greatest degree of vaccination hesitancy, and if you accept that the minority communities are getting vaccinated in a much lesser degree than the majority population, then to do this and to allow that type of proof of vaccination has a disparate impact on those communities,” Leek said.

Under the proposal, businesses, government agencies and educational institutions requiring people to show proof of vaccination for entry or service could be fined up to $5,000 by the Department of Health.

Leek said each passenger would count as a separate incident if a cruise ship required passengers to show proof of vaccination.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian on Friday told NBC News the company anticipates requiring proof of vaccination on international flights, while several major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, have announced plans for fully vaccinated journeys once they are allowed to again operate.

Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Miami Democrat who voted against the bill, called it “ironic” that the House allows members to sidestep weekly COVID-19 tests at the Capitol once they have been vaccinated.

“It's hard for me to grasp this concept being proposed by the House that goes against what we're already doing in the House,” Duran said.

Duran also questioned the potential ban on requiring students to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at schools, when they must meet several immunization requirements for things such as polio, chickenpox and measles.

“Yes, maybe 20 percent of the total deaths in the state of Florida are folks who are under 64,” Duran said. “But still, there's a lot of folks within all of those ranges who are going to be exposed. So, the idea that we're kind of just discounting it to me is a little disingenuous.”

DeSantis on April 2 issued the executive order blocking COVID-19 passports, which he said would create “huge” privacy issues that could result in people handing over medical information to a “big corporation.”

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said before signing the order. “If you want to go to the movie theater, should you have to show that? No. If you want to go to a game, no. If you want to go to a theme park, no. … I think it’s something that people have certain freedoms and individual liberties to make decisions for themselves.”

A House staff analysis of the proposal noted that countries historically have required evidence of vaccination for international travel.

Some states and countries have moved forward with COVID-19 vaccination documentation plans. Israel, for example, has a “green pass” that exempts people who are vaccinated from quarantining after contact with infected people or after travel and access to sports and cultural events.

In addition to barring COVID-19 passports, the House bill would require local emergency orders to be narrowly tailored to reduce “infringement on individual liberty” and to be extended in seven-day increments for a total duration of 42 days. Currently, such orders can be issued initially for seven days and extended indefinitely in seven-day increments.

Among other aspects of the bill, the state surgeon general would be required to develop a public health emergency plan and the Division of Emergency Management would have to stockpile personal protective equipment.

The bill also would let the governor, lieutenant governor, emergency management director, surgeon general, Senate president and House speaker conduct public-service announcements during declared states of emergency.

Last year, the Florida Commission on Ethics rejected a request by Charter Communications to alter the state’s 16-year-old lobbying “gift ban,” as the cable-television and internet company wanted to run public-service announcements from DeSantis and other state officials about the COVID-19 pandemic. Charter’s Spectrum networks reach about 2.5 million people across Central Florida and the western Panhandle.

State law prevents lobbyists and organizations that hire lobbyists from providing gifts to state officials --- what is known in Tallahassee as the gift ban. Charter hires lobbyists to work on issues in the Legislature and the executive branch.

A proposal (SB 2006) that has reached the Senate floor would limit local-government orders to 10 days without approval from the majority of local governing bodies.

The proposal also would limit the governor to emergency orders to 60-day durations and require the governor to state specific reasons for closing schools or businesses.

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