Employees at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida are no longer required to be vaccinated against COVID-19—a move that comes after DeSantis signed four bills into law requiring businesses to provide exemptions to vaccine mandates.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki took aim at DeSantis, a Republican, following Disney’s decision in comments delivered aboard Air Force One on Monday.
“I think the Disney piece is important to differentiate because, as they’re based in Florida and, obviously, the governor there has consistently taken steps to take steps backward, as it relates to fighting the pandemic, not forward,” Psaki said.
“So that’s where they’re based,” she said.
Psaki cited a poll finding that “60 percent of business leaders wanted to move forward on their own with vaccine requirements.”
“We’ve seen them implemented, at a lot of companies, they’ve been effective, and overall it gives a lot of businesses certainty about their workforce, makes people feel more confident in coming back to work,” she said.
DeSantis signed four new bills into law on Thursday relating to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The state legislature passed the bills following a three-day special session called by the governor.
One of those bills, known as HB 1B, provides that private-sector employees in Florida can opt out of a vaccination mandate if they show medical or religious reasons, or if they can show immunity to COVID-19. It also provides exemptions if employees are willing to undergo regular testing or wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
HB 1B could also see small employers fined up to $10,000 per violation for not properly following the law, while larger businesses could see fines of $50,000.
“The states are the primary vehicles to protect people’s freedoms, their health, their safety, their welfare, in our constitutional system,” DeSantis said at the bill signing ceremony on Thursday.
“What [President Joe] Biden is doing is not constitutional. There has never been a federal vaccine mandate imposed on the general public,” he said.
The Biden administration introduced a new rule requiring businesses with 100 employees or more to implement a policy so that their workers are either vaccinated or receive weekly testing. Businesses that do not comply by January 4, 2022 could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered a temporary halt to Biden’s policy on November 6 pending a review and later extended that stay. The Fifth Circuit is considered one of the most conservative in the country.
Walt Disney World announced on Saturday that it was suspending its vaccine mandate.
“We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our Cast Members and Guests, and at this point, more than 90 percent of active Florida-based Cast Members have already verified that they are fully vaccinated,” a spokesperson said. “We will address legal developments as appropriate.”
DeSantis’ spokesperson Christina Pushaw issued a statement via Twitter about Disney’s decision, saying: “Nobody should lose his or her job over these mandates, and we thank legislative leaders for their part in delivering on the promise to Keep Florida Free.
“Disney is a major employer in Florida and we are proud that the happiest place on Earth is here in our state,” the statement went on. “We hope Disney and any other company that has suspended or terminated workers due to vaccine mandates will consider re-hiring them.”