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Florida House poised to send COVID liability protections to Gov. Ron DeSantis

'It really creates an access to courts issue,' Rep. Fentrice Driskell
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Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 15:41:10-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — COVID liability protections for businesses and health providers may soon become the first major policy sent to the governor this year.

Thursday afternoon, House members teed up the bill, SB 72, for a final vote, expected Friday. Senators previously signed off, 24-15, a week earlier.

The liability protections have been another of the GOP majority's top goals this year. With the governor’s pen, SB 72 would give businesses and health providers like nursing homes new protections from COVID-related lawsuits.

When filing, plaintiffs would need to prove via "clear and convincing evidence" a defendant acted with "gross negligence." The bill also shields those who make a "good-faith effort" to follow virus protocols.

Not only do supporters think approval will cut down on frivolous lawsuits-- they say it will protect workers.

"You can also look at this as protecting their jobs because it protects their employers," said Sponsor Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland. "In that way, I think it does protect them."

To date, few plaintiffs have filed COVID-related lawsuits. And while supporters think they are preventing a surge, opponents have called the bill "a solution in search of a problem."

Democrats have largely been opposed to the legislation. Members have said the language is too broad. Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said she planned to vote down to protect those wanting to take legal action.

"It really creates an access to courts issue," Driskell said. "It basically makes it such that people have too high of a burden to file a lawsuit such that they can actually get relief."

Despite the opposition, Republicans are likely to pass the bill, and Gov. Ron DeSantis will likely sign. With his signature, SB 72 would take effect immediately.