FL Legislators Push Corporate & Government COVID19 Liabilty Loopholes
by Lakey Love, January 11 2021 - Industry-backed Florida Legislators are fast tracking corporate and government liability loophole legislation that will undoubtably create more gross negligence and allow the Florida government and corporations to put Floridians at risk and continue the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Design credit Lakey Love
TALLAHASSEE, FL - Within three hours of filing, Florida House Bill 7, found itself on the agenda for public hearing on the next Florida House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee. Why? Because this industry-backed bill would help give a free pass to businesses across the state who might be negligent about enforcing or abiding COVID19 restrictions.
HB7/SB72, known as “Civil Liability for Damages Related to COVID-19”, resembles federal “liability shield” legislation put forward by Mitch McConnell for the past 6 months, with one exception: it removes any references to CDC or World Health Organization guidelines and allows the state government and local businesses to continue grossly negligent practices with little to no accountability process. How so?
This legislation essentially raises the bar for business and property owner liability surrounding COVID-19. Where traditional liability claims prove negligence in court this legislation requires the plaintiff supply the burden of proof for the claim of negligence or willful misconduct against the business, government entity, educational institution, religious organization and/or property owner before they can file a claim. Essentially this means you have to prove guilt before the legal process of proving guilt. Of course, the burden of proof on the plaintiff comes despite the fact that there has been no specific governmental guidance at the state or federal level (nor any legal precedents) regarding what constitutes negligence in response to a COVID-19 injury claim. Why should this matter? Who does this protect?
HB7/SB7 is obviously working to protect corporate businesses, Florida government entities (including the Governor’s office), religious organizations, and education institutions who care more about making money than they do about COVID-19 safety precautions. The bill’s sponsors in the Florida House (McClure) and Senate (Brandes) are known American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislators and have a history of backing pro-corporate model legislation and budget agendas that increase corporate power and remove corporate accountability. This legislation is no exception. In fact, this legislation appears to be even worse than McConnell’s federal legislation and similar legislative put forward in other states. It's the most egregious of its kind. It makes no reference to CDC, WHO or OSHA guidelines and instead cites: 1) Governor Ron DeSantis’s ”industry-specific restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 based on the best information at the time”, and 2) DeSantis’s “responsible reopening strategy” as the ground against which the courts should judge negligence.
Industry-specific restrictions? What restrictions? Responsible reopening strategy? What responsible reopening strategy?
In September 2020, during a spike in new COVID-19 cases Gov. DeSantis lifted all COVID-19 restrictions across the state, including in restaurants and bars, and he used executive order power to ban all municipal ordinances requiring face masks. Florida has never had a statewide face mask requirement, and, along with several other southern states, Florida moved to Phase II of reopening when alerts were high that this would only raise the spread of the coronavirus - especially among poverty impacted people. When Florida went to full reopening in September 2020, some local restrictions on businesses (including restaurants) were allowed to remain, but only if local governments could “justify” those restrictions. Right before all the restrictions were lifted in September 2020, the Florida Department of Health released a report that the state’s overall positive rate had just risen from 5.33% to 7.54%. Since that time the positivity rate has been on steady incline, spiking on December 28, 2020 at 23.37%. All this despite the fact that the World Health Organization recommends that governments get their positivity testing threshold below 5% before reopening.
And now Florida legislators want to help give a free pass to Florida government entities, schools, businesses, religious organizations and/or property owners leaving essential workers, school children, and state workers with the burden of proof for their pain, suffering, expense or even death?
Of course they do.
For the last several decades Florida has been the testing ground for state level corporate influence and control. In 2020, ALEC, the nation’s corporate industry legislative powerhouse, ranked Governor Ron DeSantis #2 in the nation for his policy citing his “fiscal responsibility” in the continued regressive tax structure throughout the pandemic. This despite the state’s failing unemployment system and high poverty levels. Protecting corporations that put Governor DeSantis and many of Florida’s legislators in office is priority number one this legislative session. Priority number two, protecting the very Florida government institutions that reduced restrictions with preemption laws and forcing reopening in this first place and removing accountability processes that would hold Governor DeSantis and his cabinet responsible for the number of people sick and/or dead.
Protecting the powerful who do not need to be protected, causes those who truly do need protection to lose. Especially, working class Floridians and poverty impacted people. HB7/SB72 leaves the average Floridian with no recourse to defend themselves and could encourage corporate and government entities to commit negligent acts with impunity. Furthermore, it removes incentives for businesses, state and local governments, schools, and religious organizations to increase steps to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Florida and save lives.
Of course, saving lives has clearly NEVER been the top priority of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or the current Florida Legislature.
THREE EASY WAYS to TAKE ACTION:
If you are reading this before Wednesday, January 13, 2021 at 4 pm please take one minute to CLICK THIS LINK and SEND an EMAIL to the Florida House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee members. Tell them to OPPOSE HB7/SB72.
If you are in Tallahassee please consider signing up to attend the committee and speak against the bill. To register for this FILL OUT THIS FORM
If you have time consider phoning the legislators. Phone numbers are listed in THIS FORM.