DeSantis: Businesses requiring ‘vaccine passports’ can’t get state money

The governor’s order keeps state grants and contracts from going to businesses that require patrons to give proof of a coronavirus vaccination.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attends a press conference on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Palm Harbor University High School.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attends a press conference on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Palm Harbor University High School. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD ]
Published April 2, 2021|Updated April 2, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday that prohibits businesses from requiring customers to provide any documentation that they’ve gotten a COVID-19 vaccine in order to gain access or service. Businesses that do will not be able to get state grants or contracts, the order said.

DeSantis has previously rejected the notion of so-called “vaccine passports” as conditions for travel or other activities.

“People have certain freedoms and individual liberties to make decisions for themselves,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday, when he announced that he would soon issue an executive order about vaccine passports.

He added: “I also wonder, it’s like, okay, you’re going to do this and then what? Give all this information to some big corporation? You want the fox to guard the hen house? I mean, Give me a break.”

The order says no Florida government is permitted to issue vaccine passports or similar documentation “for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status to a third party.” It also says that businesses that do require patrons to provide evidence of vaccination or post-transmission recovery from the virus would not be eligible for grants or contracts funded through state revenue.

The order says that requiring vaccine passports “for taking part in everyday life — such as attending a sporting event, patronizing a restaurant, or going to a movie theater — would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination” and said the order is needed to “protect the fundamental rights and privacies of Floridians and the free flow of commerce within the state.”

The concept of requiring vaccines is not exactly new; certain vaccination records are required for school and for some jobs, for instance. But the idea of such passports for the coronavirus has raised legal and ethical questions — particularly from conservative policymakers.

In a follow-up tweet, DeSantis said he would push for the Legislature to enshrine his vaccine passport policy into Florida law.

No bills enacting restrictions on vaccine passports had been filed as of Friday in either the Florida House or the Florida Senate. But on Thursday, Senate President Wilton Simpson said his chamber would look into the issue. The 60-day legislative session ends April 30.

Some Florida organizations have already instituted efforts to have patrons show they’ve been vaccinated. The South Beach Food and Wine Festival, for instance, is requiring proof of vaccine or evidence of a negative coronavirus test within three days before attending any event.

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The Miami Heat said it was reserving a specific seating section for fans who have been vaccinated. A spokesman for the team declined to comment on the executive order.

It’s good to see businesses encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations, but it’s also important to think about equity when it comes to vaccine passports, said Zinzi Bailey, a social epidemiologist and board member of the Florida Health Justice Project.

”We do need to be extremely careful with regard to equity when we’re thinking about vaccination as rite of passage to enter economic, social and other public interactions,” Bailey said.

She noted that many people still have not been vaccinated and that certain groups, such as Black and Hispanic Floridians, are still less likely to have gotten a shot.

Bailey said she doesn’t understand why the governor’s executive order talks about individual freedom but restricts the ability of business owners to set policies they may feel would make their employees and customers safer.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on the executive order, saying everyone in the office was out for the Good Friday holiday.

The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is hopeful some Broadway shows could return to the Tampa venue as early as this fall. A passport could help fill theaters faster, she said, especially if professional actors’ unions decide they won’t let members perform in venues without vaccine requirements.

”Our business is going to depend on a high level of vaccine,” she said. “Our audiences, we want to attract them and get them safely inside these theaters, and we need to get to 100 percent capacity.”

She called DeSantis’ stance on passports “unfortunate.”

”I just don’t think he (DeSantis) understands our business or the sports business,” she said. “We’re about people in seats sitting next to each other. So the vaccine passport could be critical for these businesses rebuilding and restarting successfully.”

Related: How might vaccine passports work? Politifact explains

Times staff writer Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.

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