In the free state of Florida, shouldn’t businesses be allowed to make their own decisions? Shouldn’t the heavy hand of government stay out of their way? Republicans used to believe that.
And yet, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who constantly tells people that he is incubating the “free state of Florida,” wants to permanently tell businesses what they can and can’t do when it comes to COVID-19 protections. On Tuesday, he announced legislation that would forever penalize companies that require employees to wear masks or be vaccinated for COVID-19. Those who oppose vaccines and masks might see this as a victory. It’s not. How is it a good thing when business owners are prohibited by the government from making their own reasonable decisions? We should all worry when the state government intends to permanently limit how businesses run their operations.
DeSantis is pushing to forever write into the books a series of laws passed in a November 2021 special session to restrict Florida businesses that were following a federal law requiring mask mandates or requiring employees to be vaccinated. And he wants to prohibit employers from hiring or firing based on vaccine status or wearing a mask.
The Republican-led Legislature will feel intense pressure to pass this bill when the session begins in March. After all, DeSantis won a resounding 19-point reelection victory and is riding high. But Florida’s Republicans would do well to remember their roots as a pro-business, small government party. They should let this bad policy sunset on its own and reject attempts to make it permanent in Florida law.
At this point in the pandemic, whether to mask or to keep up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations is an individual decision. That should apply to businesses as well as people. DeSantis asserts that this is about individual rights. But in claiming that Florida is “serving strongly as freedom’s linchpin,” he seems to be forgetting that business owners are people, too, and they have rights of their own — rights that he would take away. There are appropriate rules, of course. A private business cannot discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender, for example. But that does not limit a business’ ability to make its own choices. If a business owner wants to require masks or vaccinations for employees or customers, she should be able to do so. How is it “small government” for politicians to tell a private business owner otherwise?
In a free market, customers who don’t like that idea can take their money elsewhere. Employees who disagree can seek jobs elsewhere. Isn’t this the point of free market capitalism? It used to be that Republicans believed that government that governs least governs best. Here, they have a chance to harken back to their history and slap away the heavy hand of big government. They should do so.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.