A high-profile bill that would provide COVID-19 liability protections to businesses moved through its final House committee Tuesday in a 14-7 vote, after heated partisan debate and procedural maneuvering.
Before passing the bill (HB 7), the House Judiciary Committee approved three amendments proposed by bill sponsor Lawrence McClure, R-Dover.
One of the amendments caused Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach, to withdraw support for the bill. That amendment would make clear that if more than one set of public-health recommendations or guidelines were in effect at the time a plaintiff suffered damages, injury or death, the business would only need to show it made an effort to “substantially comply” with one of the standards for legal immunity to apply.
Because Gov. Ron DeSantis never issued a statewide mask mandate, opponents argued, businesses that didn’t require masks would get immunity.
“It essentially creates blanket immunity. It’s arbitrary. It doesn’t cite the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it doesn’t cite the WHO (World Health Organization). It could be an authoritative source such as one person that can be just plucked out and utilized as the basis for whatever standards a business is applying,” Greico said. “I am an attorney, but I am also a small business owner. I see things from both sides. I wanted to be up on this not knowing where it was going to go, but that amendment was fatal.”
Before the amendment, businesses would have had to show they made an effort to substantially comply with authoritative or controlling government-issued health standards or guidance.
The other two amendments would bring McClure’s bill more in line with a separate proposal (PCB HHS 21-01) that would limit lawsuits against nursing homes, hospitals and physicians. One of the two amendments altered a proposed statute of limitations.
The other amendment changed a definition of health-care provider to include mental health and substance abuse providers.
By the committee agreeing to adopt the amendments, the House business-liability bill no longer is identical to its Senate counterpart (SB 72), filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. The Judiciary Committee rejected six amendments proposed by Democrats. Committee Chairman Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, didn’t allow the committee to debate or consider five of the six amendments, saying they were filed past a deadline.
The bill is now ready to go to the full House after the annual legislative session starts March 2.