TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis let a Tampa-area burg do the trolling for him this week as he signed four bills aimed at fighting vaccination mandates pursued by President Joe Biden’s administration.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature signed off on the measures during a three-day special session that paved the way for the governor’s bill-signing event Thursday at Brandon Honda in Hillsborough County.

DeSantis has spent months battling with the Biden administration about COVID-19 policies, and Thursday’s event was held in a community that shares a name with part of a conservative derogatory slogan about President Joe Biden --- “Let’s Go Brandon.”

When asked whether his choice of the Brandon dealership to sign the bills was a nod to the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme, DeSantis replied with a grin that he held the event in the unincorporated community because it is a “great American city.”

DeSantis’ political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, quickly capitalized on the choice of venue for the bill-signing ceremony in a fundraising email with the subject line “Fighting Brandon’s Mandates ... from Brandon, FL.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody, who was among the Florida GOP leaders accompanying DeSantis Thursday, helped pump up the crowd by calling the community “the shining city on the hill representing freedom,” eliciting the first brief round of “Let’s Go Brandon” calls during the event.


DeSantis on Thursday touted the suite of bills passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature as the “strongest piece of legislation that's been enacted anywhere in the country.”

The main bill (HB 1B), which the governor called the special session’s “big enchilada,” allows Florida private-sector workers to avoid vaccination requirements if they provide medical reasons, religious reasons or can demonstrate “COVID-19 immunity.”

Also, employees can be exempt if they agree to regular COVID-19 testing or agree to wear personal protective equipment. Employers could face fines up to $50,000 per violation if they don’t properly follow the law.

The bill also bars government agencies from requiring workers to be vaccinated, and reinforces a law known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to ban student mask and vaccination requirements in public schools.

DeSantis defended his efforts to overrule local governments and the federal government on issues like mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The states are the primary vehicles to protect people's freedoms, their health, their safety, their welfare, in our constitutional system,” DeSantis said during Thursday’s bill-signing ceremony. “What Biden is doing is not constitutional. There has never been a federal vaccine mandate imposed on the general public.”

Another bill (HB 3B) signed by DeSantis Thursday creates a public-records exemption related to allegations that employers have violated the law preventing vaccination mandates. The exemption would shield from public release information about investigations into the alleged violations.

Other bills signed Thursday included a controversial measure (HB 5B) that will start a process to move away from oversight of worker safety by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A fourth bill (HB 7B) strips the state surgeon general of authority to order vaccinations during public health emergencies.

Democrats criticized the new laws and the special session, which they decried as a waste of time and as being about DeSantis’ widely speculated White House ambitions in 2024.

“It’s a disgrace the governor chooses to call a symbol of technological and medical advancement ‘the jab’ to continue scaring people and confusing them about the effectiveness of the vaccine,” House Minority Co-Leader Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said in a statement. “We need to continue listening to public-health and medical experts to get over this pandemic and truly let Floridians prosper.”


As DeSantis thumbed his nose at Biden with this week’s special session, Moody launched an attack on another front.

Calling the Biden administration’s actions “reckless,” the state attorney general filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a federal requirement that workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Moody asked a judge to issue an injunction or temporary restraining order that would block the requirement before Dec. 6. Under the federal regulation, health-care workers are required to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by that day.

“For a myriad of reasons, many health care workers in Florida will refuse the vaccine and be forced into unemployment, triggering a cascade of harmful effects across the state,” one of the court documents said.

When it announced the regulation on Nov. 4, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it would protect health-care workers and patients amid the ongoing pandemic.

Moody’s lawsuit alleges, in part, that the federal agency known as CMS overstepped its legal authority in issuing the requirement and did not follow proper procedures, such as consulting with states and providing notice.

Florida has filed three lawsuits against federal vaccination mandates, including the challenge filed Wednesday in Pensacola.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly signed into law four bills from a special legislative session this week aimed primarily at preventing workers from being required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “This is political theater. This is not about helping anyone. This is not about guaranteeing anyone’s freedoms. This is not about governmental policy. This is about two men having a measuring contest that they should have in private, and instead they’re letting it spill out in front of full public view.” --- House Minority Co-Leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, on this week’s special legislative session.