Author’s Note: Please contact your representative and urge them to add or support amendments for the bill that would protect workers!
House Bill 7 (HB7) was filed on January 6th, 2021 at 1:01 P.M. by Representative McClure. While it is now among hundreds of bills flooding the Florida House, it represents a bigger problem.
HB7 would provide COVID-19 “liability protections for businesses, educational institutions, government entities, religious organizations, and other entities.” If the bill is passed, any entity covered under the language of the bill that “makes a good faith effort to substantially comply with applicable COVID-19 guidance is immune from civil liability from a COVID-19-related civil action.” The premise of the bill sounds good, especially when you consider how it might protect thousands of small businesses. The problem is that it also protects large corporations from COVID-19 liability, potentially putting millions of workers at risk. In addition, “good faith effort” isn’t defined in much detail, and would only be investigated if a claim was brought up against the business.
My main issue with the bill is this: we are once again protecting businesses, and more importantly big corporations, while refusing to provide protection to the employees who are already suffering under a broken unemployment system. This bill would require the plaintiff to acquire a physician’s affidavit in which the physician asserts that COVID-19 was contracted from the defendant before a trial can even begin. But how is a family doctor supposed to play the role of an expert epidemiologist? Furthermore, Representative McClure stated in the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee meeting that only 10 lawsuits have been filed concerning COVID-19 liability, and all of them were against insurance companies, not businesses.
To me, it seems as if we are protecting businesses from a problem that isn’t a widespread issue, while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Floridians struggling with the unemployment system. Some Floridians are completely ignored by the system when it comes to pandemic relief aid. Take the undocumented immigrants who form the backbone of our citrus industry — none of them would qualify for aid. Even now, federal aid just became available for certain mixed families (families of two or more citizenship statuses), meaning that citizens married to noncitizens have been left out of aid since the very beginning.
Instead of fighting an issue that has hardly cropped up, the legislature should be focusing on the unemployment system that is still leaving thousands without water, electricity, or a home every single day.