Florida Governor Ron DeSantis passed an executive order in July of 2021, banning vaccine passports. A vaccine passport occurs when a business or other entity requires their patrons and customers to present proof of vaccination. Since the bill was passed in July, enforcement has been sparse, and businesses caught requiring vaccine passports faced little tangible consequence.
Recently, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature has approved and passed the law signed by Governor DeSantis earlier this year. This allows the Florida Department of Health to begin harsher enforcement of the vaccine passport ban. According to the Department of Health, any Florida business found requiring proof of vaccination from patrons, customers, or any other member of the public will face a $5,000 fine. Once the fine is issued, businesses will have a brief thirty-day period to appeal before payment is due.
Critics to this bill make three main arguments. First, they argue the law violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Pundits argue the state has no authority to restrict a business or individual’s expression. Second, they argue vaccine passports violate the very same free market principles that Governor DeSantis champions. Finally, they argue the ban goes against the greater health interests of the public.
Despite heavy criticism, Governor DeSantis argues he is making decisions based on empirical evidence, upholding individual rights principles. DeSantis stands by the notion that this to be a legitimate use of state executive power.
Florida Federal Courts Create a Contentious Legal Divide
In August 2021, a federal judge temporarily sided with Norwegian Cruise Lines, ruling that Florida’s law banning vaccine passports was unconstitutional on free speech grounds. The ruling held that the First Amendment prohibits the enactment of laws abridging freedom of speech, and that vaccine passports fell squarely into constitutionally protected waters. In response, Governor DeSantis stated he would appeal the ruling.
Beginning September 16, 2021, the Florida Department of Health will begin enforcing the ban on vaccine passports. After that date, Florida businesses will face $5,000 in fines for requiring the public to present a vaccine passport. The law allows the Department of Health to begin collecting payments immediately, and whether the courts will find the law unconstitutional is yet to be decided.