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How did Tampa Bay lawmakers vote on vaccine mandate bills?

Gov. Ron DeSantis had called for a special session to address vaccine mandates.
People listen to a speaker as several hundred anti-mandate demonstrators rally outside the Capitol during a special legislative session considering bills targeting COVID-19 vaccine rules on Tuesday in Tallahassee.
People listen to a speaker as several hundred anti-mandate demonstrators rally outside the Capitol during a special legislative session considering bills targeting COVID-19 vaccine rules on Tuesday in Tallahassee. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]
Published Nov. 18, 2021|Updated Nov. 18, 2021

Tampa Bay lawmakers voted largely along party lines this week when they considered bills that Gov. Ron DeSantis urged and that limited vaccine mandates.

Lawmakers voted on four bills that require opt-out options for private employers mandating vaccines, let employees file complaints with the attorney general’s office, and more.

The central bill tackling mandates was HB1, which allows vaccine mandates for private employers so long as they offer opt-outs, including but not limited to religious exemptions, a signed physician’s note, COVID-19 testing or “COVID-19 immunity,” set to be defined by the Florida Department of Health.

Public employers have less wiggle room — the bill prohibits them from issuing mandates at all.

The bill’s language also says private employees who aren’t offered exemptions can file a complaint with the attorney general’s office. If a company is found in violation, they could be fined up to $50,000.

Those who voted in favor of HB1 are: Reps. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota, Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, Traci Koster, R-Tampa, Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa and Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes.

Massullo and Robinson co-sponsored the bill, along with 11 other lawmakers. Rep. Randall Maggard, R-Dade City, missed the vote but voted yes after roll call.

Those who voted against HB1 are: Reps. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, Michele Rayner, D-St.Petersburg and Susan Valdés, D-Tampa.

In the Senate, Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, voted yes. Sens. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, voted no.

When it comes to the attorney general’s investigations referenced in HB1, HB3 created public record exemptions that conceal them from public view until they are closed, and would prohibit release of a person’s religious or medical information. Burgess co-sponsored the bill along with the primary bill restricting mandates.

Those who voted for HB3 are almost exactly the same as HB1. The only lawmaker in the House to change was Learned, who became the only Tampa Bay Democrat to vote yes, joining Republican Reps. Beltran, Chaney, DiCeglie, Gregory, Ingoglia, Koster, Latvala, Learned, Mariano, Massullo, McClure, Robinson, Sprowls, Toledo and Zika. Maggard missed the vote.

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Those who opposed the bill are Reps. Diamond, Driskell, Hart, Rayner, and Valdés.

In the Senate, Rouson was the only Tampa Bay legislator to flip and vote with the Republican majority in favor of the bill. Along with him, Brandes, Burgess, Hooper and Simpson voted yes. Cruz voted no.

Rouson had walked out of an earlier meeting about the bill, leaving his Democratic caucus without a quorum. He said Thursday that while he objected to the special session and the main bills, he voted in favor of the public records exemption with caution. He said the bills could not be stopped.

“I believed if I committed error, then I committed it on the side of protecting the medical information of complainants,” Rouson said. “I erred on the side of protecting religious, sincerely held beliefs from being exposed and people becoming targets because of their filing of the complaint.”

Early on in conversations about the special session, Florida’s legislative leadership floated withdrawing from the federal workplace safety program Occupational Safety and Health Administration and instead establishing a state program, which is addressed in HB5. Zika is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Tampa Bay Republicans again largely aligned to vote yes on the bill: Beltran, Chaney, DiCeglie, Gregory, Ingoglia, Koster, Latvala, Learned, Mariano, Massullo, McClure, Robinson, Sprowls, Toledo and Zika. Maggard missed the vote. Senators Burgess, Hooper and Simpson also voted yes.

In the Senate, Brandes did not vote on the bill, but voted against it after roll call. Cruz and Rouson also voted no. Democratic representatives Diamond, Driskell, Hart, Learned, Rayner, and Valdés voted no.

Brandes said he missed the vote because he stepped out for a personal call. He had voted against the same bill in the appropriations committee.

The business community does not think Florida will withdraw from Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight, Brandes said, and doing so would be costly and still require the same amount of restrictions as the federal agency now demands.

“When you look at this and say, ‘What’s the real benefit to it?’ I think it’s mostly theater,” he said.

The final bill, HB7, removes the authority of the state health officer to order vaccinations in a public health emergency. On that bill, Learned again voted with Republican representatives. Reps. Diamond, Driskell, Hart, Rayner, and Valdés opposed.

Reps. Beltran, Chaney, DiCeglie, Gregory, Ingoglia, Koster, Latvala, Learned, Mariano, Massullo, McClure, Robinson, Sprowls, Toledo and Zika voted yes, and Robinson is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Brandes again did not vote on the bill. Sens. Burgess, Hooper and Simpson voted in favor, while Cruz and Rouson voted against.

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