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Christine Sexton Christine Jordan Sexton - October 25, 2021

Vaccine mandates wouldn't exclude health care providers from extended COVID-19 liability protections.

Health care providers could get COVID-19 liability protections extended through December 2023 under a bill Sen. Jeff Brandes filed Monday.

Immediate attempts to contact Brandes Monday were unsuccessful.

Brandes’s bill does not change the underlying law — or exclude businesses with vaccine mandates from the protections, as Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week should happen.

Health care associations and lobbyists, meanwhile, were pleased with Brandes’ legislation.

“The pandemic has brought on financial and workforce challenges for nursing centers and assisted living communities and these extended protections will ensure providers can maintain the resources they need to stay focused on resident safety and deliver care in what is still a challenging environment,” Florida Health Care Association Communications Director Kristen Knapp said in a statement to Florida Politics.

Jacksonville health care lawyer and lobbyist Christopher Nuland agrees.

The physicians he represents were hopeful the pandemic would have been over by now and that extending liability protections wouldn’t be necessary, he said.

“We thank Senator Brandes for acknowledging that we are all still in the fight and need these protections to continue,” Nuland said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 2,006 COVID-19 infections in Florida last Thursday, the latest available data. And the Florida Department of Health reported on Friday that 58,803 people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020.

The number of deaths in Florida has increased by a little more than 50% since July 30 when the delta variant started spreading across the nation and the state.

Florida lawmakers in 2021 agreed to pass legislation filed by Brandes that provides Florida businesses protections from COVID-19-related lawsuits. SB 72 contained provisions applying to general liability claims filed against businesses, as well as extending protections to health care providers from COVID-19-related claims alleging medical malpractice or violations of nursing home residents’ rights.

DeSantis signed the bill into law last March. It requires plaintiffs who file medical malpractice claims or claims against nursing homes to prove health care providers’ actions were grossly negligent. If not, health care providers who substantially comply with authoritative or applicable government-issued health standards or guidance related to COVID-19 have immunity. At the insistence of House Speaker Chris Sprowls, the health care liability protections would remain in effect for just one year. That means they expire March 29, 2022.

Florida Justice Reform Institute President William Large started pushing for an extension last month, telling Florida Politics at the time, “it needs to be extended until the crisis abates.”

“With developments concerning the delta variant, it is now necessary to extend the protections,” Large said. His group is dedicated to protecting businesses from lawsuits.