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DeSantis Pledges To Fine Cities, Counties Requiring Workers To Get COVID Vaccine

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) - Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that his administration will start issuing $5,000 fines to cities and counties that require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"These mandates are overreaches and they will be really destructive to a lot of good people. So we're on board to fight back both in terms in any of the government, with our law being applied and the fines, but then anything involving the private, we're going to be providing protections for people because people should not face a choice of losing their jobs," said DeSantis at a campaign-style news conference on Monday.

The fines issued will be per violation.

The governor said a new law passed this year prohibits businesses, local governments, and schools from requiring customers, residents, and students from showing proof of vaccination.

The law, however, does not specifically prohibit those entities from requiring workers to get vaccinated.

Municipalities, such as Orange County and the city of Gainesville, potentially face millions of dollars in cumulative fines for implementing a requirement that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine

"We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate," DeSantis said at the news conference outside Gainesville. "You don't just cast aside people who have been serving faithfully over this issue, over what is basically a personal choice on their individual health."

Florida has been a national epicenter for the virus's spread this summer, with COVID-19 deaths in Florida accounting for more than 20% of the virus-related deaths across the country last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

At the news conference in Alachua County, DeSantis called on several local government workers from central Florida to explain why they didn't want to get a vaccine at the risk of losing their jobs. Several offered false conspiracy theories about the vaccines, which medical experts have said are safe and highly effective.

DeSantis also said that vaccination requirements would force "into destitution" first responders who worked for more than a year protecting people amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"These mandates are overreaches and they will be very destructive for a lot of really, really good people," DeSantis said during Monday's event at the Clark Plantation in Newberry.

Many of the municipalities requiring employees to get vaccinated offer exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

More than 200 Gainesville employees --- including police and firefighters --- have filed a lawsuit alleging the vaccination mandate violates the state's prohibition against so-called vaccine passports.

Gainesville spokesperson Shelby Taylor said the city stood by its decision.

"It is our belief that as an employer we retain the right to require vaccination as a condition of employment," Taylor said in an email.

At a news conference, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, a Democrat, said that he believed many of the decisions the Republican governor makes are politically motivated and that the county "would deal" with DeSantis' threat, either through the courts or another manner.

"It could be a lot of money, yes, no question about it," Demings said. "At the end of the day, it is our goal to protect the people in our greater community, to keep them safe, which is a fundamental role of government."

According to the Florida Department of Health, the virus has claimed the lives of nearly 49,000 Floridians since March 2020, with 2,448 deaths added last week.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, whose city is requiring vaccinations against COVID-19 for all new employees, also questioned DeSantis' stand.

"What state is he governor of? Because Florida is currently leading the nation in average daily COVID deaths and his response is to spread vaccine conspiracies to guarantee we keep our #1 ranking. God save us," Gelber tweeted.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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