State lawmakers have passed a bill asking Governor Ron DeSantis to formulate a plan to pull Florida out of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) purview and create a new state-controlled organization.
The bill (HB 5B) passed through the House 76 to 38 and then made its way through the Senate Wednesday evening with a 23-13 vote. St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes told the Catalyst he was the only member of his party to vote against the measure.
“I’m not surprised,” said Brandes of the vote. “Although none of them (Republican colleagues) can really explain what the real reason for pulling out would be.”
The bill gives DeSantis $1 million and until Jan. 17 to develop a plan for Florida to create a state equivalent of OSHA. The state would then withdraw from the federal agency. DeSantis did not ask for the measure when calling for a Special Session – the idea emerged after Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls brought up the proposal in a joint statement. Land O’ Lakes Rep. Adrian Zika went on to sponsor the bill, initially proposed as a means to bypass federal vaccine mandates.
Although Brandes is opposed to federal vaccine mandates – which are currently held up in federal court – he believes HB 5B is nonsensical for several reasons and is nothing more than a political ploy.
“It’s silly, and it’s just theater,” said Brandes. “It’s not real.”
To leave the agency, the state would need permission from the federal government and OSHA. Approval requires the state must prove its regulations are at least as strict as OSHA’s. Brandes said such a program would cost $100 million annually and require 100-200 employees to fulfill the same functions that OSHA already handles. There is also no federal reimbursement plan for costs associated with creating a state organization.
“No one has explained to me the benefit of us pulling out other than to be harder on businesses and manufacturers in the State of Florida,” said Brandes. “This bill basically just says, ‘give us a million dollars, let us take a look at it,’ but they didn’t need to do a bill in order to look at it.”
Brandes explained both the House and the Senate have what is called administered funds that are available to research prospective ideas, such as HB 5B. He added that the House is currently undergoing a major risk analysis project covering the entire state, and they are conducting it without legislation because there are research funds available.
“So, at the end of the day, this was just theater,” reiterated Brandes. “And they’re never really going to do it.”
The senator believes that after conducting the review, officials will realize the cost will be in the hundreds of millions and will require diverting funds from other departments such as health care and education. Even if the money were available, the state program would still be required to regulate businesses equal to what OSHA has in place. Brandes said OSHA sets the floor, not the ceiling for states, and he doubts Florida wants to be more bureaucratic and stricter on businesses than OSHA’s current guidelines.
As for circumventing a vaccine mandate that has yet to go through the courts, Brandes said withdrawing from OSHA will take three to five years.
“In three to five years, we could potentially get out of a vaccine mandate, but the vaccine mandate likely will not be around for three to five years,” said Brandes. “So, I don’t know what this is all about.
“The whole thing is kind of comical on its face.”
Further complicating matters is the federal appeals court issuing a stay on vaccine mandates. Brandes relayed that OSHA announced Wednesday night that it would not enforce the mandates. He called the whole thing a mess and blamed the Biden administration for creating the problem in the first place.
Brandes said large businesses would need to dedicate two or three full-time employees to track and monitor other employees’ vaccination and testing statuses amid a critical labor shortage. He believes thousands of Floridians would quit their jobs because they are adamantly against forced vaccinations.
“You start losing doctors and nurses at a time when you need doctors and nurses, and frankly, businesses need employees,” exclaimed Brandes. “It’s just another nail in the coffin for some businesses.”
While he believes vaccine mandates are bad for business, Brandes noted how the business community was remarkably silent when it came to supporting this piece of legislation “because they know it’s never going to happen.”
Brandes said DeSantis will now take the $1 million, hire an outside consulting firm, and put together a plan detailing the time, cost and regulatory hurdles involved in withdrawing from OSHA. Further legislation would have to be drafted and then go through another vote, and the state would need approval from the federal government. Brandes believes the only thing this process will accomplish is wasting a million dollars.
“And what will we get for it,” asked Brandes rhetorically. “Nothing. We just burn a million bucks.”
Brandes said the solution moving forward is not vaccine mandates or political posturing but transparency on the surrounding issues. He believes leaders should continue to inform the public of the benefits, safety and efficacy of vaccines without forcing them on people or businesses.
“Let people make their individual choices,” he said. “There are people who absolutely, 100%, no matter what you tell them, are not going to get the vaccine.”