DeSantis Bullies Special Olympics Into Dropping Vaccine Mandate

Photo courtesy of Special Olympics.

By Terrance Turner

June 3, 2022

The Special Olympics announced today that it would drop its vaccine requirement for its upcoming Games in Orlando, Florida, thanks to a demand from Florida government officials. The news was announced on the Special Olympics’ official website:

“Special Olympics, Inc. (SOI) announced on June 2, 2022, that it is lifting the vaccine requirement for delegation members attending the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games being held in Orlando, Florida, June 5-12, as required by state of Florida officials on May 27, based upon the Florida Department of Health’s interpretation of Florida law. Delegates who were registered for the Games but were unable to participate due to the prior vaccine requirement, now have the option to attend.” 

The news comes after the vaccine requirement conflicted with a state law in Florida forbidding any business or organization from imposing vaccine mandates. ABC News reporter Jay O’Brien revealed that Florida administration officials threatened to levy a $27.5 million fine against the Special Olympics if it maintained the vaccine requirement.

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In November 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a series of bills into law that prevent any organization in Florida from imposing a vaccine mandate. According to NBC affiliate Local 10 News, “The most contentious measure prevents private businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out for medical reasons, religious beliefs, immunity based on a previous infection, regular testing or an agreement to wear protective gear. Additionally, it bars schools and governments in the state from having vaccine mandates and allows parents to sue schools with masking requirements. Another bill blocks the public release of records regarding state investigations of vaccine policies in businesses” Among the provisions in the bills:.

  • Employers must cover the costs of testing and PPE exemptions for employees.
  • Employers who violate these employee health protections will be fined.
  • Small businesses (99 employees or less) will face $10,000 per employee violation.
  • Medium and big businesses will face $50,000 per employee violation.
  • Government entities may not require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.
  • Educational institutions may not require students to be COVID-19 vaccinated.
  • School districts may not have school face mask policies.
  • School districts may not quarantine healthy students.
  • Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney’s fees.

DeSantis boasted at the time that he was making Florida “the free-est state in the nation” (surprising given that he’s punishing Disney for exercising its First Amendment freedom to speak out about bad Florida policy). And he praised today’s decision at a press conference. “This will be a relief to a lot of these athletes,” he said. “There’s a significant number of them who were in limbo until this week.” But observers on Twitter were not amused:

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According to Bleacher Report, The Special Olympics’ USA Games are scheduled to feature 5,000 athletes from all 50 states and the Caribbean. The Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, followed by six days of competition beginning on Monday. Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics feature athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities who are provided with year-round training and competition.

The Special Olympics Games will commence next week; ABC’s “Good Morning America” team will be broadcasting from Orlando for the Games on “GMA3: What You Need to Know”.

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