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St. Petersburg City Council votes 4-2 to oppose Florida Legislature on COVID special session

Council chair Ed Montanari and Robert Blackmon voted against the resolution. Also, the council unanimously approved its legislative priorities for 2022.
A reminder to follow COVID-19 protocols at the Capitol is seen posted outside the House chamber in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature in March 2. The St. Petersburg City Council opposes the Florida Legislature’s weeklong special session beginning Monday to ban governments from mandating vaccines for employees, among other coronavirus-related matters.
A reminder to follow COVID-19 protocols at the Capitol is seen posted outside the House chamber in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature in March 2. The St. Petersburg City Council opposes the Florida Legislature’s weeklong special session beginning Monday to ban governments from mandating vaccines for employees, among other coronavirus-related matters. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 10
Updated Nov. 10

ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg City Council, though divided, is opposed to the Florida Legislature’s weeklong special session beginning Monday to ban governments from mandating vaccines for employees, among other coronavirus-related matters.

The council Tuesday voted 4-2 in favor of the resolution, which characterized the special session as preemption of local government and an attack on home rule. In the same meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s $30 million request to build its Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences Research and Training Facility and the city’s legislative priorities and funding requests for 2022.

Chairman Ed Montanari and council member Robert Blackmon, the lone Republicans on the council, were the no votes. Council members Darden Rice and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman were absent for the vote.

“I support our local businesses and home rule but in the same ask package we’re asking for well over $100 million in assistance, including USF,” Blackmon said. “I don’t want to try to muddy the waters. I want to try to repair the relationship.”

The approved resolution is a softened version of what came before the City Council’s Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations committee earlier that day.

“I don’t look at the legislative process as one particular issue that can cloud everything else you can do,” said council member Brandi Gabbard, who chairs the legislative committee. “There is give and take. I don’t feel, first of all, that there’s any relationship that needs to be repaired. I think we have a good relationship with our delegation. I feel like this as it’s drafted here before you really accomplishes those goals without going hard on them on this.”

Lawmakers also watered down their bills, too. DeSantis has been against private businesses mandating vaccinations for employees and said he would make employers liable, but those ideas aren’t in bills released Monday.

St. Petersburg is not requiring vaccines for current city employees but is requiring all new hires to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s not clear whether DeSantis’ threatened fines would apply to any policies enacted so far in the Tampa Bay area.

Times staff writers Allison Ross and Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.