Provision of SB 2 — one of four bills introduced as part of the governor’s campaign against vaccine and mask mandates — would pay unemployment benefits at taxpayers’ expense to workers fired because they refuse required safety protocols to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.
The Republican-dominated legislature will take up the bill during a special session next week.
Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim ReynoldsLate last month, a comparable law was signed providing unemployment benefits for workers in that state who refuse their employers’ requirements that they get COVID vaccines. Also, the law was passed in a special session and became effective immediately.
Iowa remains 23rd in the nationThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 55.4% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated. COVID-19 is responsible for approximately 7000 deaths in the state.
As for DeSantis’ push, Rich Templin, legislative and policy director for the Florida AFL-CIO, called the measure an extraordinary precedent.
“It’ll be the first time that a voluntary quit is eligible for payment,” he told the Florida Phoenix.
Bill sponsor Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Danny Burgess insisted to the Phoenix that such unemployment “benefits are there as support for unlawfully terminated employees,” referring to those who refuse to be vaccinated.
Ironically DeSantis ended federal unemployment benefits earlier this year, amid widespread joblessness due to the pandemic. This was because he claimed they were an incentive for workers to leave jobs that are no longer needed. New incentives could encourage workers to avoid being vaccinated.
Anna Eskamani, a Democratic member of the Florida House, told the Phoenix that “the fact that Gov. DeSantis barely lifted a finger to assist Floridians with their unemployment benefits — even killing our efforts to increase the benefits by $100 [per week] this past legislative session — and is now trying to reform [the program] for people who quit their jobs due to vaccine requirements is a joke.”
SB2 allows companies to mandate vaccinations but with many exemptions for employees. Workers could choose to skip the vaccine if medical reasons or certain religious beliefs are considered to have been exempted from COVID-19. They also can agree to wear or be tested on job sites.
These people would qualify for unemployment benefits if they were fired. If a new business required vaccinations, they would not have to accept other job opportunities.
Employers refusing to grant exemptions may face severe fines.