Tallahassee, FL - Florida lawmakers Monday began moving forward with bills that could be a first step in the state regulating worker safety and shedding involvement of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration—or OSHA.
The House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved bills (HB 5B and SB 6-B) that would direct Gov. Ron DeSantis to develop a plan to take control of worker safety and health issues. The governor would be required to report back to the Legislature by Jan. 17.
Ultimately, the federal government would have to sign off before the state could take control. The proposal comes after OSHA issued a rule this month that would require tens of millions of workers nationwide to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested and wear masks.
Florida is challenging the rule in federal court, and DeSantis called a special legislative session to push back against vaccination and mask mandates. The special session started Monday. Supporters say the bills approved Monday could provide more flexibility in worker-safety regulation.
“Florida knows Florida better than Washington will ever know Florida,” House sponsor Ardian Zika, R-Land O’ Lakes, said before the House panel voted 13-5 to approve the measure.
But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said the bill appears to be a “big expansion” of state government and questioned whether it would get federal approval. Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, said he sees potential hazards and potential benefits from the proposal.
He said the bills are an early step in a process that could take as long as three years. “OSHA is not perfect, not by a long shot,” Templin said. A House analysis said 21 states and Puerto Rico operate plans that cover private and government employees. Another five states and the U.S. Virgin Islands operate plans that cover government employees, according to the analysis.
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