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GAINESVILLE, Florida (LifeSiteNews) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Friday that the city of Gainesville has withdrawn a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers after pressure from his administration and a court ruling against the policy last month.
“We are not going to allow our first responders and government employees, many of whom have been on the front lines for over a year and a half, to be cast aside by local politicians’ mandates,” DeSantis said in a press release. “This reversal by the City of Gainesville is a victory for liberty.”
According to the press release, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) received a letter from Gainesville last week informing the department that city commissioners “voided” a recent vaccination mandate for all public employees.
The FDOH had written to Gainesville mayor Lauren Poe days earlier, threatening to enforce a law signed by DeSantis in May that bans government entities, schools, and businesses from demanding COVID vaccination status. The law, S.B. 2006, allows up to $5,000 in fines per violation.
Gainesville told the health department in response that there are now “zero employees who are subject to a City COVID-19 employer vaccination requirement.”
“Please be advised that on September 23, 2021, the City Commission of the City of Gainesville took action to rescind their August 5th action related to COVID-19,” city manager Lee Feldman wrote, adding that the vaccine rules “have been voided.”
Florida workers should not lose their jobs based on COVID shots. The City of Gainesville rescinded its mandate, which threatened to kill many jobs.
We must protect the jobs of hard-working Floridians from destructive mandates imposed by local politicians.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) October 1, 2021
The day before the FDOH notice, a Florida judge temporarily halted Gainesville’s vaccine mandate following a lawsuit brought by city workers and backed by the DeSantis administration.
“The city failed to put on any evidence that the Vaccine Mandate serves a compelling state interest or that the Vaccine Mandate was the least restrictive means to accomplish that interest,” Circuit Judge Monica Brasington ruled September 22. Gainesville, in fact, “did not put on any evidence, at all, at the injunction hearing,” she noted.
The City Commission of Gainesville voted to rescind the rule the next day.
More than 200 city workers, including police officers, firefighters, and other first responders, sued to block the mandate, with the backing of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican who filed a brief in support of the workers in September.
‘Millions of dollars’ in fines
Last month, Gov. DeSantis announced that Florida would move to penalize violations of the state’s ban on COVID-19 vaccine requirements, such as those in Gainesville, with “millions of dollars” in fines.
“If a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition to employment, that violates Florida law, and you will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation,” the governor declared at a press conference near Gainesville. “If you look at places here in Alachua County, like the city of Gainesville, I mean, that’s millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines.”
“We will certainly move to impose the fines as the law requires when we see people that are denied access,” he said.
The DeSantis administration continues to fight local vaccine mandates in multiple counties, including Leon County, where city officials confirmed this weekend that they fired 14 employees who refused to disclose their vaccination status by Friday, in violation of S.B. 2006.
The FDOH had warned the county last week that it must “immediately rescind” the coercive vaccine policy and “refrain from terminating any employees who decline to produce proof of vaccination.”
“Fines may be assessed based on each employee who was required to submit proof of vaccination as a condition of continued employment,” wrote Doug Woodlief, FDOH division director for Emergency Preparedness and Community Support. Those fines could cost Leon County over $3.5 million, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Orange County also faces potential fines due to an ongoing COVID vaccine mandate, which prompted a lawsuit from dozens of firefighters last week, local news reported. The county downgraded the mandate days after Gov. DeSantis’ press conference last month, but has harassed unvaccinated employees and impeded them from being promoted, firefighters have said.
The Gainesville workers’ victory against compulsory COVID vaccination follows similar recent successes in other states. In Arizona, the city of Tucson backed down on a vaccine mandate last month after Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich threatened to withhold up to $175 million in funding from the city, citing state laws enacted by Republicans earlier this year.