Senators are ready with OSHA replacement plan

Senators are ready to consider a measure that will allow the state to begin exploring the creation of a state office of workplace safety.

The measure (SB 6B) will ask the governor’s office to develop a plan for Florida to seek federal approval for a state counterpart to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. State occupational safety agencies must be at least as strict as OSHA, but leaders in Florida’s Republican-led legislature have framed the measure as a way to circumvent vaccine mandates from an “arms-controlled” federal agency.

Senators in the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved the bill along almost party lines and prepared it for the Senate’s full consideration. The measures include a $ 1 million fund for the governor’s office to develop the plan, including hiring consultants if necessary.

St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, sponsor of the bill, told the panel that Florida’s OSHA requirements could be as stringent as federal workplace requirements. However, it would allow the state to expand the rules for industries such as tourism and construction.

“We have a lot more flexibility, local control, in the regulatory side of things if we were to take over,” Hutson said.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the bill. West Palm Beach Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell said the measure “looks like a big government” and does what the federal government is already doing.

And a Republican, St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, broke with his party and told the committee that the $ 1 million grant was unnecessary given the existing research funding. In addition, he said the business community has been largely silent while lawmakers discuss the proposal.

However, federal vaccine requirements remained an issue for him.

“There’s really no need for the bill other than to make a point,” Brandes said. “But I think the highlight here is that even if we did this, the state would be exempt from the vaccine mandates, which is precisely why we are here.”

While the vaccine mandate, which was due to begin in January but is currently being paused in federal court, was the driving force behind the bill, lawmakers recognize it will likely take years to implement a state plan. The shortest it has taken a state is about two years, the Florida AFL-CIO lobbyist noted Rich Templin. However, the average is more like three years.

Senate President Wilton Simpson Monday, reporters told reporters that the OSHA approval process depends on who gets elected in 2024, noting that the plan must go through the federal government. But as for the federal government’s decision to impose what he called an unconstitutional mandate, the Senate president asked what comes next.

“What we do not want to do is create an opportunity for future presidents to arm cabinets that will come in and do unconstitutional things, even if only for a short period of time,” Simpson said.

The house speaks Chris Sprowls earlier Monday, the measure called for a “plan for the future.” He noted, however, that he believes the OSHA vaccine rules, which also include an opt-out if employees undergo weekly tests, will not stand up in a federal court.

The full House is expected to give its first approval to this House’s version of the bill (HB 5B) later Tuesday morning. The House’s pandemics and public emergencies approved the bill almost on the party line, where a Democrat joined the Republicans in the vote 13-5.

Twenty-two states have an OSHA-approved state program, while five states have programs that apply only to public sector employees.

Getting a state plan approved is not something that would happen overnight. There is a process that requires federal authorities to examine state action and ensure that standards of worker protection are as effective as federal rules.

To obtain initial approval, states must assure OSHA that they will have enough personnel and regulations in place within three years. Once a state obtains approval, it is eligible for federal funding to pay for the program. When OSHA gives its final approval, it relinquishes authority.

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