A 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 bill will be taken up by the Republican-dominated state legislature during a special session that convenes next week.
Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds late last month signed a similar law providing unemployment benefits for workers in that state who refuse their employers’ requirements that they get COVID vaccines. The law was also passed during a special session, and took effect immediately.
Iowa remains 23rd in the nation for percentage of its population fully vaccinated at 55.4%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 7,000 people have died of COVID-19 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 cut off enhanced federal unemployment benefits early this year amid vast joblessness caused by the pandemic because, he said, they created an incentive for workers not to return to jobs companies needed filled. The new package could provide incentives for workers not to be 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 would allow companies to require vaccinations, only with a multitude of broad exemptions for workers. Under the bill, workers could skip a vaccine due to medical reasons, certain religious beliefs, claimed immunity from having had COVID-19, or if they agree instead to be tested or wear protective equipment on a job site.
Anyone fired in those situations would be eligible for unemployment benefits. They would not be pressured to take other jobs if a new company also required vaccines.
Employers who refuse to allow exemptions, meanwhile, could face stiff fines under the bill.