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Tampa Bay companies ‘under review’ for allegedly violating Florida vaccine passport law

But it’s unclear exactly what “under review” means.
Florida businesses face fines of $5,000 per violation charge under a law blocking so-called "vaccine passports" signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida businesses face fines of $5,000 per violation charge under a law blocking so-called "vaccine passports" signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis
Published Oct. 12
Updated Oct. 12

TALLAHASSEE — Less than a month after the state of Florida began enforcing a law that bans so-called “vaccine passports,” officials at the Florida Department of Health have begun compiling a list of businesses, individuals and governments “under review” for violating it.

The list includes several Tampa Bay-area names, including the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, the Gasparilla Music Festival and BayCare Health System. Prominent South Florida businesses like the Miami Marlins baseball team are also included. The Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy of the list via a public records request.

Weesam Khoury, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said the list originated with citizen complaints and is current as of Friday. Khoury did not answer follow-up questions about the review process, including whether the department vets the complaints before an organization is added to the list.

The list was first reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

The so-called vaccine passport law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis says that no company, school or government can deny someone service on the basis of their coronavirus vaccination status. Violators are subject to a $5,000 fine per violation.

Related: Florida Department of Health’s new rule: $5,000 fines for some vaccine mandates

Florida on Wednesday moved to fine Leon County $3.5 million after the county required its employees to get vaccinated, and fired 14 employees who refused. Leon County Administrator Vincent Long said the county disagrees with the state’s interpretation of the law. The statute doesn’t explicitly mention how governments may handle their employees.

Some names on the complaint list have already had publicized battles against DeSantis’ ban on vaccine mandates. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Lines is in an ongoing court battle against the state over its desire to require passengers be vaccinated. Norwegian won an injunction from a federal judge in August, who ruled that the cruise line can continue asking passengers for proof of vaccination.

Some of the others on the list say they think they are on the list in error because their policies follow state law.

Paul Bilyeu, the Straz Center’s communications director, said the venue didn’t know about the list until the Sentinel story was published. The Straz requires attendees to show proof of a recent negative test or, in lieu of a test, to show proof of vaccination. State officials have previously acknowledged that such an arrangement is legal.

“We know we’re on the list, but that’s it,” Bilyeu said. “We have not heard from anybody in any official capacity about what that means.”

A spokesperson for the Gasparilla Music Festival said she wasn’t aware of any state investigation. The festival, which took place in Tampa during the first weekend of October, also asked attendees to show a recent negative test or proof of vaccination. So does the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre and several other performance venues across the state that appear on the list.

A spokesperson for Allegiant Air, which flies out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, said its inclusion on the list is “completely without merit as Allegiant, like all other domestic carriers, does not require vaccination proof from customers.” A spokesperson for the Miami Marlins said the state had not been in touch with the club about any investigation.

The list contains spelling errors, and several businesses and venues appear repeatedly: The Straz Center is listed four times, the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre seven times. It also twice lists “Tampa Amphitheater,” which is not the name of any venue but may refer to the MidFlorida venue. It’s not clear whether the repetition connotes multiple complaints or investigations.

Several events are listed, including ones as recent as last weekend, when both the Zac Brown Band and Brooks & Dunn played at MidFlorida. And it includes at least one show that hasn’t happened yet: Jason Aldean is scheduled to perform at MidFlorida on Oct. 30, in a concert erroneously listed as “David Aldean.”

Elsewhere on the list are large corporations — Starbucks, Raytheon, Equinox — and much smaller entities, including a residential address in Sanford and one individual, identified by her full name. It includes public officials, such as Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, and agencies, such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Jacksonville-based counterterrorism unit. Some entries are vague: “Military defense contractor.” “DoD employees.”

The state also lists, “Moffitt Communications,” which does not match the name of any entity on the state’s corporations database.

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