TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — State officials notified Leon County by letter on Tuesday of a massive $3.57 million penalty for defying Florida's vaccine mandate ban under new state law.
It comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed last month to use new state law, SB 2006, to hit local governments with fines requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccine shots.
Leon County was cited $5,000 for each of its more than 700 employees.
Fourteen were fired after failing to prove vaccination status.
The governor maintains he is defending individual liberty with the punishment.
"We're going to make sure that people can make their own choices. We're not going to discriminate against people based on those choices. You're going to have a right to operate in society," DeSantis said.
There is concern the governor is exceeding his authority with the fines on cities and counties.
The law he is using was created to prevent Florida businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.
Leon County has said previously there is a "genuine disagreement about the applicability of the statute and rule…" and suggested a court challenge may be in the works.
White House officials continue to support vaccine mandates as beneficial to public health and the economy.
Leon County released the following statement after the fine was issued:
Leon County was made aware of a notice from the Florida Department of Health regarding the County’s vaccination requirement. The County strongly contends that our employee vaccination requirement was not only completely legally justifiable, but it was a necessary and responsible action to take to keep our employees safe, protect the public, and ensure our readiness as a frontline response organization.
Every single day over the last 20 months of combating the pandemic, Leon County’s emergency response and mitigation efforts have been informed by expert public health guidance and in alignment with a plain reading of the law to ensure the safety of our community. The Governor’s position in this instance unfortunately appears to be less of a public health strategy and more about political strategy. Leon County fully intends to enforce its rights using any remedies available to settle all arguments about the applicability of the statute at issue so that we can continue to direct our full and undivided attention on combating the virus, protecting our employees and citizens, and fulfilling our obligations to our community.
Forrest Saunders at WPTV first reported this story.