Florida's Leon County, where the state's capital of Tallahassee is located, has been fined over $3.5 million over its imposition of a vaccine passport mandate. The Florida Health Department imposed the fine on the county's government on Tuesday, claiming that it violated the state's ban on vaccine passports.
The fine is the first time the state has imposed a fine on a locality for defying its ban. The Health Department said county officials had violated the state law in July when it required all 700 county employees to show proof of vaccination.
The county required the employees to present proof before an Oct. 1 deadline. The vaccine mandate had resulted in the termination of 14 employees who failed to comply with the requirement.
Governor Ron DeSantis said that the requirement was "unacceptable" and Leon County is guilty of violating Florida Law. He added that the mandate had infringed on the medical privacy rights of the county's employees, which had also resulted in the termination of "loyal public servants" because of their health decisions.
DeSantis, who is openly against vaccine and mask mandates, signed a bill in May that banned local governments from enforcing a vaccine mandate. Under the law, which took effect in September, violating localities could face fines of up to $5,000 per violation.
Leon County Administrator Vincent Long defending their actions and claimed that the vaccination requirement for their employees was "legally justifiable." He added that it was also necessary to ensure the public's safety given the rising number of cases in the state.
Long had accused DeSantis of politicizing the COVID-19 pandemic instead of focusing more on the public's safety. The accusation is similar to the ones made by other government officials, including White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Long added that Leon County had every right to use "any remedies available" to combat the virus and to protect its employees and citizens, which is part of its obligation to the community.
Apart from Florida, states such as Texas and Montana have come under fire for their refusal to implement strict public safety measures. On Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order that effectively barred companies in the state, including private employers, from imposing vaccine mandates.