A rally supporting the wearing of masks to contain Coronavirus, Pinellas County, Florida (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill fining businesses and hospitals who require Coronavirus vaccinations or regular testing for employees.

DeSantis hailed the opposition to containment measures — in the state with the third-highest rate of Coronavirus deaths and cases in the US, and the highest this summer — as “the strongest piece of legislation that’s been enacted anywhere in the country”.

Through the Florida Board of Education, the governor has already imposed fines on school districts who require masks in classrooms. Seeking re-election in 2022, and possibly a Presidential run in 2024, he has loudly defied the Biden Administration’s plan for vaccine requirements for workers in government and in large companies.

Florida is the first state with a mandate to punish businesses and hospitals who carry out the vaccination/testing requirements. The Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure largely along party lines.

The legislation threatens businesses with fewer than 100 employees with fines of $10,000 for each perceived infraction. Those with 100 or more employees can be fined $50,000 each time.

The bill also codifies the ban on school mask requirements. Lawmakers approved $5 million to fund legal battles against the Biden Administration.

See also Coronavirus: Florida Strips Federal Funding from Schools With Mask Mandates

Florida has recorded 60,846 deaths and 3,711,612 cases. The state largely escaped the initial wave of Coronavirus, but fatalities soared from summer 2020 as DeSantis supported Donald Trump’s opposition to containment. This summer, as the Delta variant increased risk and severity of the virus, Florida was recording 20% of all US cases.

But DeSantis praised himself and GOP colleagues on Thursday, “Leadership means you get in there and you do what you can to stand by people. And that’s exactly what we did today.”

See also Oklahoma Governor Orders National Guard to Refuse Coronavirus Vaccine Requirements

Republican politicians are now appearing along anti-vaccination activists at speeches and rallies. On Thursday, as many people wore red “Operation Freedom of Choice” T-shirts, some yelled, “The vaccine is the virus.”

DeSantis staged the signing at a car dealership on the outskirts of Brandon, Florida, seen as a nod to the vulgar “Let’s Go, Brandon” chant attacking President Joe Biden since early October. The governor coyly said, “I think Brandon is a great American city.”

See also “Let’s Go Brandon”: How the F-Word Took Over US Politics