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Rep. Frankel urges local governments to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for workers

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 2:01 PM EDT
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U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, on Wednesday urged local government leaders to consider mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for workers, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens to fine municipalities thousands of dollars for doing so.

"The fact is, we're not getting help from Tallahassee," Frankel said during a virtual discussion with more than a dozen Palm Beach County lawmakers, school district officials, and medical experts.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, hosts a virtual COVID-19 discussion on Sept. 15, 2021.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, hosts a virtual COVID-19 discussion on Sept. 15, 2021.

DeSantis on Monday said the state will fine cities and counties $5,000 per infraction if they require government employees to get vaccinated.

The governor argued that any agency that mandates the COVID-19 vaccine is breaking the newly passed SB 2006.

The law bans private businesses and government entities from requiring customers to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. However, the language doesn't specifically prohibit local governments from requiring the vaccine for employees.

"A governmental entity as defined in s. 768.38 may not require persons to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity's operations in this state. This subsection does not otherwise restrict governmental entities from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health."

"I have a very respectful disagreement with the governor's position," municipal law consultant Claudia McKenna said during Tuesday's virtual discussion. "The bill specifically does not deal with employers."

Currently, the Palm Beach County Tax Collector's Office, Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller's Office, Palm Beach County Public Defender's Office, and city of Delray Beach are all mandating their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. If they refuse, they must agree to take a weekly coronavirus test in order to continue working.

"We're not through this yet. And we're not gonna get through it until we get those vaccines in arms," said Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia. "We're the leaders out there. If we don't do it as cities, as municipalities, how can we expect anyone else to do it? We have to lead by example."

Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller Joseph Abruzzo said his office offered employees a $500 incentive to get vaccinated. After instituting the mandate, he said 80% of his office is now inoculated.

"It worked, and it worked quickly," Abruzzo said.

Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon said two of her employees may resign because they're unwilling to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.

West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James said he's exploring the possibility of a vaccine mandate for city workers and has conducted a national survey to see what other municipalities around the country are doing as far as COVID-19 mitigation strategies go.

Calling it a "dire" situation, Frankel said local government leaders should put a priority on getting people vaccinated.

"This should not be an issue about safety and health versus people keeping jobs," Frankel said. "It seems to me it's good policy to keep people healthy. And that's how you're gonna keep people working."

President Joe Biden said on Sept. 9 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated, or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.

"The president is doing the right thing. And this is not about parties. It's about what's scientific, it's about what's right," said Dr. Michael Smith, the director of the medical scholars program at Florida Atlantic University. "The right thing is not a Democratic thing or a Republican thing. It's a scientific thing."

RELATED: Vaccinations up, COVID-19 cases down in Palm Beach County, health director says

According to the Florida Department of Health, roughly 62% of Palm Beach County residents ages 12 and older are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, Smith worries the longer it takes to get more of the population inoculated, the more opportunities the virus will have to mutate once again and become more resistant to the vaccine.

"The situation is critical and dire," Smith said. "We must now mandate vaccines just like other diseases if we're going to do anything akin to saving the human species."

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