By Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
As promised earlier in April, Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order barring any state or local government agency from issuing, or any private business from requiring, any “vaccine passport” — meaning documentation of an individual’s COVID vaccination status.
He acted on Friday, shortly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it now considers it safe for fully vaccinated people to travel without risk to themselves and need not get tested for the coronavirus or quarantine after arrival, as reported by news organizations including CNN.
The ban took effect immediately.
“No Florida government entity, or its subdivisions, agents, or assigns, shall be permitted to issue vaccine passports, vaccine passes, or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status to a third party, or otherwise publish or share any individual’s COVID-19 vaccination record or similar health information,” DeSantis’ order declares.
“Businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business,” it continues.
The order conditions receipt of state grants on observance of the order by businesses.
“The requirements in this order do not otherwise restrict businesses from instituting COVID-19 screening protocols in accordance with state and federal law to protect public health, and nothing herein shall be construed to interfere with individuals’ rights to access their own personal health information under federal law,” it says.
DeSantis had repudiated the notion of vaccine passports last week, citing medical privacy concerns and opposition to the notion that people should show their papers — or more likely smartphone app verification — to do basic business.
The governor also urged the Legislature, which is about midway through its regular session, to ban the documents by law.
The move followed reports that the Biden administration was working with private businesses to develop such an application, which would be a way for individual businesses to try to ensure the safety of their customers and employees.
Opposition to these passports among Republicans has, with Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green labeling them “Biden’s Mark of the Beast.”
DeSantis’ order, issued Friday, cites a Florida Constitution section guaranteeing freedom of speech and the Florida Emergency Management Act, which gives governors broad authority in managing public crises.
DeSantis had repudiated the notion of vaccine passports on Monday, citing medical privacy concerns and opposition to the notion that people should show their papers — or more likely smartphone app verification — to do basic business.
Professor JoNel Newman, director of the Health Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, questioned the governor’s legal authority to ban these documents in an interview with the Phoenix earlier in the week, particularly for private businesses.
“The public health and safety regulations would usually trump that. Those are traditionally local. But then, we also have a marketplace free-choice question for completely privately owned businesses. Why would he have more authority than that than for no shirt, no shoes, no service, to quote an often-imposed rule in a private restaurant,” she said.
DeSantis offered a fuller explanation of his reasoning within the order, including that “many Floridians have not yet had the opportunity to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination, some have infection-acquired immunity, and others may be unable to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination due to health, religious, or other reasons.”
The document notes that the state does not require that people be vaccinated; that privacy laws protect people’s health information; and that “so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.”
“Requiring so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports for taking part in everyday life-such as attending a sporting event, patronizing a restaurant, or going to a movie theater would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination,” the document says.
It adds that the governor deems it “necessary to protect the fundamental rights and privacies of Floridians and the free flow of commerce within the state.”