Florida House asks staff to report when they got vaccinated for the coronavirus

The House voted to pass a “vaccine passport” ban earlier this session.
Some Republicans have railed against the idea of vaccine "passports."
Some Republicans have railed against the idea of vaccine "passports."
Published June 30, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — On June 22, a staffer in Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ office reached out to her colleagues with a request.

“Please remind your staff to report when they are fully vaccinated,” wrote Michelle Davila, the deputy chief of staff for operations and COVID-19 protocols, in an email reviewed by the Times/Herald.

Davila provided a link to a Google form in which respondents are asked to fill in the date they became fully vaccinated and the county in which they got their shots.

The form extols the virtues of the coronavirus vaccines. “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 adds one more layer of protection for you and those around you,” it reads. “Please do your part to keep the House a safe place to work.”

Florida ranks toward the middle of the pack of the 50 states in vaccines administered per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey is not mandatory for staffers. The final question allows those responding to deny the House the right to “collect and use information regarding...vaccination status for the purpose of implementing the House COVID-19 protocols.”

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law banning businesses, governments and schools from requiring the people they serve to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated. Violators can be fined up to $5,000 per infraction under the so-called “vaccine passport” ban.

DeSantis pushed hard for the ban during the legislative session. At the time, he argued requiring someone to disclose their vaccination status — which some other countries have done in order to mitigate the spread of the disease — is a violation of privacy.

The House collecting staffers’ vaccine data does not appear to violate the new law. Still, some lawmakers said they were surprised to see the House making the effort.

“To me, it’s shocking that anybody would even ask the question in the state given the current state of affairs,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. Later in the interview, Brandes added: “It doesn’t seem like something that the Legislature would do given that they just told people they couldn’t do this.”

Tom Yu, a spokesperson for the House, said in an emailed response that any comparison between the House survey and a vaccine passport is “silly.”

“The information collected does not restrict an employee’s access to or entry to House spaces or (an employee’s ability to) participate in any employment-related activities,” Yu said. Instead, he noted, the survey would be used to allow vaccinated staffers to avoid quarantining in the event of an office outbreak.

The 2021 lawmaking session ran through March and April, but lawmakers returned to the capitol to do business starting in January — near the time of Florida’s reported coronavirus case peak. During the months of lawmaking in Tallahassee, the House and Senate tested lawmakers, staffers and members of the press weekly for the virus.

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Yu said the form sent to staffers last week has been available to representatives and staff since April 7. Around that time, the Legislature tweaked its rules to allow vaccinated workers to skip the testing process. Staffers, journalists and members were given the option to report in a separate Google form when they were fully vaccinated.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, the House Democratic leader, said he supports efforts to collect information on who in the House office has been vaccinated, so long as it’s done securely and without coercion.

“It does confirm how serious this thing still is, and that we are still in the midst of the pandemic,” Jenne said.

Jenne said he too was having some trouble squaring the House’s efforts with the Republican rhetoric around the importance of vaccine privacy.

“Optically, it’s not the best look to talk out of both sides of your mouth,” Jenne said.

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