Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
DeSantis stamps state’s passport to Fantasyland
Two months ago, Gov.
Ron DeSantis bragged that Florida is an “oasis of freedom.”
Apparently, however, “freedom” depends on how DeSantis defines it.
Last Friday, the governor issued an executive order that seeks to prohibit public agencies or private businesses from demanding proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Any business that requires a “vaccine passport,” the order said, will be ineligible to receive state contracts or grants.
As usual, the order seemed hastily written by a first-year law student. As usual, DeSantis gave no heads-up.
Also as usual, the order touted DeSantis’ pandemic performance, aiming especially at older Floridians. His administration is “leading the effort” to vaccinate seniors. DeSantis took credit for “prioritizing seniors first.”
But, the order noted, the state will not require vaccinations. Some may not be able to get them “due to health, religious or other reasons.” Vaccine passports “reduce individual freedom and patient privacy” and would create “two classes of citizens.” Consider the ironies. DeSantis regularly praises himself for allowing businesses to operate during the pandemic. Yet DeSantis would deprive businesses of an important marketing and employee-protection tool.
DeSantis and other Republicans also have boasted about the state’s business-friendly attitude toward regulations. Yet, based on a dubious legal argument, DeSantis would impose a burdensome regulation.
DeSantis has demanded that the Biden administration allow cruise lines to resume sailing from Florida. Yet the order came as Norwegian Cruise Lines announced its intent to seek approval for cruises at 60% capacity with all passengers and crew showing proof of being vaccinated more than two weeks before departure.
From a legal standpoint, DeSantis
is on shaky ground. Federal law delegates regulation of interstate commerce to Congress and prohibits states from interfering with it.
As the Sun Sentinel reported, the order did not mention theme parks, airlines or cruise lines. They surely are scrambling for answers, just as local governments had to scramble a year ago after DeSantis issued his first reopening order. He had to reissue it two days later.
The “patient privacy” argument also fails. The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, prevents medical providers from giving information to a third party without the patient’s consent. In this case, the patient would divulge the information.
Since logic doesn’t explain the governor’s order, we must presume that it’s politics.
Among right-wing Republicans, the myth persists that President Biden wants to mandate vaccinations. Biden has said otherwise many times, but the administration will provide guidance to businesses that want to set vaccination requirements.
Unfortunately for Florida, DeSantis plays mostly to the paranoid wing of the GOP. White evangelicals, who form the Trump/DeSantis base, are the most vaccine-resistant segment of American society. Their continued resistance could prolong the pandemic.
DeSantis wants those voters to know that he won’t consign them to second-class status. He could be more helpful by joining those like the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“These vaccines,” Moore said, “are cause for evangelicals to celebrate and give thanks to God. I am confident that pastors and lay members alike want churches full again and vaccines will help all of us get there sooner rather than later.”
Curtis Chang is a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School and a former pastor. Conservative congregations, he said, mistrust the government. Ministers fear criticism if they encourage vaccinations. To make progress, “There’s going to be some courage required.”
There was no courage in DeSantis’ order. There was only pandering. Outside of the DeSantis bubble, roughly 60% of respondents to an Associated Press poll in December supported vaccine passports. That included almost half of Republicans.
Consider where DeSantis’ political statement of an order could lead. Could he next ban school districts from requiring masks in classrooms, based on the unsupported views of a few Floridians?
Schools already don’t accept unvaccinated children. Travelers going abroad and coming here must show proof of immunizations. Those rules don’t infringe on personal liberty. They protect public health.
Restaurants post “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs because the owners believe that it’s good for business. Businesses of all kinds will decide if vaccine passports are good for business. In Florida, they should be free to do that.