Florida investigating potential ‘vaccine passport’ law violators, including Miami Marlins, performing arts centers, and counterterrorism squad

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Potential violators of Florida’s COVID “vaccine passport” law include the Miami Marlins, the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, several concert venues and performers, and an FDLE counterterrorism unit.

The city of Miramar and the Plantation Police Department are on the list of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies whose policies are being examined. Some of those on the list, including Miramar and the Broward Center, said they are fully compliant with state law.

Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam said it “is such a surprise we are being investigated.”

Chistina Pushaw, press secretary to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who strongly opposes vaccine mandates and signed the ban on vaccine passports into law, said by email Monday that “an investigation is not a finding of a violation.”

Cruise ship companies also are under investigation despite a federal court order that has prevented enforcement of the law against Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The Miami Marlins are under investigation, but no other major sports team are included.

The 120 cases “under review” were identified in a list released by the the Department of Health in response to a public records request by the Orlando Sentinel.

The DeSantis-signed law is being disputed in court. It prevents businesses and governments from requiring customers to show proof of COVID vaccination. The health department is responsible for enforcing the $5,000 per violation fine that went into effect Sept. 16. State health department rules call for a notice of violation to be issued, which will include the right to a hearing before an administrative law judge. The fines would be due to the department within 30 days of a final order.

On the federal level, President Joe Biden ordered companies with more than 100 employees require their workers to be vaccinated or face weekly testing for the coronavirus. Specific rules for that mandate have yet to be released.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, said by email Monday that “from a public health standpoint, there is no doubt that there should not be a ban on vaccine passports, quite the opposite,” adding that “quite simply, there is no medical, public health, scientific, or economic justification for the positions taken to ban vaccine passports.”

Marty said all leaders — in politics, religion, business, sports, education and more — “should be unified in taking all reasonable health measures to improve the safety and well-being of our community.” That means vaccination and a government role, Marty said. Government has long played a role in assuring safe environments that reduce disease and injury, she said, and the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have approved “safe and effective vaccines that can and do protect us from the worst viral pandemic of our lifetime.”

Marty said there are health reasons — “for many individuals, having survived even mild or moderate COVID-19 translates into life-long years of quality [of] life lost, equals lost years of productivity” — and economic reasons “a business with highly trained staff cannot afford to lose those quality employees to the ravages of COVID-19.”

Kelley Shanley, Broward Center for the Performing Arts president and CEO, said Monday that COVID-19 safety protocols at the Fort Lauderdale center and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach are nearly identical and do not require proof of a customer’s vaccination status for admission to a performance. Customers ages 12 and older are asked to provide documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test, with the option of instead submitting proof that they are fully vaccinated.

The policy also is in place at other South Florida venues operated by the Broward Center: The Parker in Fort Lauderdale, Aventura Arts & Cultural Center and the Miniaci Performing Arts Center at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

Shanley said Broward Center safety protocols were developed while “looking very closely” at state laws to make sure they are compliant. “There is a testing requirement, which can be exempted by volunteering to provide vaccination documentation instead,” he said.

He said a state inquiry to make sure businesses are compliant with state laws doesn’t seem extraordinary. “We’ve been trying to get the word out about our policies. To the extent that this helps create awareness, so people who plan to attend will come better prepared, it’s helpful,” Shanley said.

A handful of individuals’ names were listed, including “City of Miramar Vernon E. Hargray, City Manager,” without additional detail.

Messam said Miramar asked City Hall employees and police to get vaccinated by Nov. 1. Those who agree will receive $500 and those who don’t will be required to be tested weekly. “They are not being punished,” the mayor said. “It’s such a surprise we are being investigated and a surprise the city manager would be named individually. There is no penalty for not being vaccinated.”

Shanley said he, too, was unaware of the investigation and had not been contacted by state health officials.

In Plantation, the policy written in August called for all employees to be fully vaccinated by the end of September or face unpaid leave and then termination. That brought the compliance rate from 38% up to 90% of employees, according to a city memo. Another 3% received at least one shot by the deadline.

The city rewrote its policy Oct. 1 “due to ongoing legal challenges.” Now, unvaccinated staff must wear a city-issued N-95 mask at all times while at work and go for weekly testing. Once they use up their designated “Covid-19 leave” for testing, they’ll have to dip into their personal sick time.

But they’ll still need to show proof of vaccine if they want discounted health insurance rates that kick in in April.

“Overall I think the policy has gone smoothly,” said Jason R. Nunemaker, the city’s chief administrative officer. “We have had some complaints; a few employees even spoke under public comment at City Council.”

Nunemaker said Plantation’s position is that the state law that prevents government from requiring people to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination “does not apply in this situation.”

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The list includes the Florida Department of Law Enforcement “Jacksonville Region, Counterterrorism Squad.” The FLDE Jacksonville office on Monday referred all questions to the main office in Tallahassee, which had no comment.

Major large companies have mandated vaccines for employees, but not customers. Others on the list include large companies like AT&T and Northrop Grumman and tiny firms such as Skydive DeLand.

Despite being under review, the cruise ship business is not expected to immediately face fines after a federal judge granted a temporary injunction halting enforcement in a lawsuit brought by Norwegian Cruise Line. Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary, has said the state would not enforce the law for the cruise industry until a decision is made on the injunction.

Here is the list of governments, businesses and organizations under review as released by the Department of Health. It is not clear why some entries are listed more than once, and some may be incomplete.

  • Saint Edward’s School
  • iTHINK Financial Amphitheater
  • House of Blues
  • Straz Center, Patel Conservatory, Next Generation Ballet
  • Allied Universal
  • Amway Center
  • Grovenor House Condominium
  • Kravis Center
  • The Rock Boat (Norwegian Cruiseline)
  • Raytheon Technologies
  • Moffitt Communications
  • Mobile Mini
  • Allied Universal / G4S and Bay Care Health Systems
  • Naples Community Hospital
  • City of Miramar Vernon E. Hargray, City Manager
  • Memorial Hospital West
  • 2021 I/ITSEC
  • Daily’s Place
  • Straz
  • Live Nation
  • Alachua County Public Library
  • FDLE, Jacksonville Region, Counterterrorism Squad
  • Plaza Live
  • American Gas Association
  • Miami Marlins
  • Metcalf, Jessica N
  • AT&T
  • Membership of CWA 3176
  • ECPI University
  • Mid Florida Credit Union (Zack Brown Concert)
  • AGA : 2021 Operations Conference
  • Feld Entertainment Studios
  • AdventHealth
  • Vertex Aerospace
  • Broward Center for the Performing Arts and The Parker.
  • Titusville, Florida’s Space Coast
  • Gasparilla Music Festival
  • New World Symphony
  • Equinox
  • The MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa
  • Armory Center for the Arts
  • Seafarers International Union
  • The Big Arts Sanibel Island
  • JP Poindexter & Co employees
  • Straz Center for Performing Arts
  • Tampa Amphitheater
  • DoD employees
  • Live Nation concert
  • Orange County
  • Riverview High School Preforming Arts Center
  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • Allion insurance, Florida Amphitheater Live Nation
  • Live Nation Concerts- MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre
  • Alachua County Library District
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Alachua County Library District (own entity/not ran by Alachua County)
  • Alachua County Board of County Commissioners
  • Norton Museum
  • David A Straz Center
  • Alachua County Library District
  • Seafarers International Union
  • Alachua County Public Library
  • The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center
  • American Public Transit Association
  • Orange County Convention Center
  • Florida Trail Association
  • Plantation Police Department
  • Jewel Toffier
  • Titanium Yoga – “VAX ONLY” classes
  • Orlando Lowndes Shakespeare Center
  • Lauren Poe, Mayor City of Gainesville
  • Jerry Demings, Mayor Orange County
  • Johns Island Club
  • Geo Gaming
  • Skydive DeLand
  • Starbucks
  • Van Wezel Performaing Arts Center
  • Coast is Clear Music Festival
  • Merrill Gardens at Champions Gate
  • The Saber Legion – Florida Charter sponsored event: called Florida Kyber Open on November 14th at XL Soccer World Orlando
  • Allegiant Airlines at the St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport
  • American Maritime Officers Union / Training Facility
  • 4740 Grassendale Terrace
  • Amway Center – Harry Styles concert
  • Florida Repertory theater
  • Military defense contractor
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
  • Leidos
  • Tampa amphitheater / Live Nation event
  • Mid Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre / Live nation- Brooks and Dunn Concert
  • Mid FL amphitheater – David Aldean Concert
  • Government contractor for Booz Allen
  • Integrity Title and Guarantee LLC
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Leon County Government, County Administrator Vincent S. Long

Sun Sentinel staff writers Ben Crandell, Lisa J. Huriash and Kathy Laskowski and Orlando Sentinel staff writer Mark Skoneki contributed to this report.

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