Biden Administration asks judge to block Florida’s attempt to prevent vaccination requirements for federal contractors

Feds claim Florida has “presented what is largely a mirage of impending economic calamity.”

click to enlarge Biden Administration asks judge to block Florida’s attempt to prevent vaccination requirements for federal contractors
Photo via White House/Flickr

Biden administration attorneys this week urged a judge to reject Florida’s attempt to block a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for federal contractors, saying the state has “presented what is largely a mirage of impending economic calamity.”

In a 41-page document filed Wednesday in federal court in Tampa, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys wrote that Florida has not shown that it will be harmed by the vaccination requirement and argued President Joe Biden has broad authority over federal contracting.

“COVID-19 hobbled the economy for months and continues to disrupt American life. Federal procurement is no exception. The president, as the ultimate manager of federal procurement operations, determined that workplace safeguards aimed at preventing COVID-19’s spread will ‘decrease worker absence, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors at sites where they are performing work for the federal government,’” the document said, partially quoting a Biden executive order. “Slowing COVID-19’s spread promotes economy and efficiency because federal procurement --- like any business endeavor --- suffers when people contracting with the federal government get sick and miss work.”

The document was filed in opposition to Florida’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the vaccination mandate, which is rooted in Biden’s September executive order. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday is scheduled to hear arguments on the motion Dec. 7.

Florida filed the lawsuit in October, contending, in part, that Biden overstepped his authority with the requirement that workers of federal contractors be vaccinated. Lawyers in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office also argued that Florida would be injured because state agencies have contracts with the federal government.

“Defendants (Biden and other federal defendants) are already pressuring Florida to modify existing contracts, and Florida understands that failing to do so will exclude Florida from consideration for future opportunities,” the Nov. 2 motion for a preliminary injunction said. “As a matter of Florida law, however, state entities may not require vaccination of state employees. The challenged actions, therefore, require Florida to choose between changing or violating state law on the one hand or losing tens of millions of dollars in federal funds on the other.”

But in the document filed Wednesday, Justice Department attorneys said Florida has “failed to show how it has been harmed” because the vaccination requirement does not apply to existing contracts. It said the requirement applies to new contracts, new solicitations for contracts, extensions or renewals of contracts and the exercising of contract options.

The document said Florida “has presented what is largely a mirage of impending economic calamity. While Florida would have this court believe that (the executive order) portends a summary, across-the-board invalidation of numerous federal contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, the reality bears no resemblance to Florida’s characterization.”

Florida has cited an example of a $12 million contract that the University of Florida received last year from NASA.

“Florida’s agencies and other state entities contract with the federal government as a matter of course, and these contracts are worth tens of millions of dollars or more,” the state’s motion for a preliminary injunction said. “For example, last year the University of Florida won a contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration worth over $12 million. And Florida’s Department of Education has several contracts with GSA (the federal General Services Administration) to provide vending services at federal buildings, which Florida uses to give employment opportunities to blind individuals. Florida has pending opportunities to enter into or renew a number of such contracts beginning as early as December.”

But the Justice Department attorneys disputed that the vaccination requirement would affect such things as the NASA contract, which lasts until 2025,

“What a new or renewed contract might require in 2025 is a matter of pure speculation. By that time, the government may not even require contractor employees to be vaccinated. Florida’s speculation that it might lose this contract more than three years from now is ‘conjectural’ and ‘hypothetical,’ not ‘actual,’ ‘imminent,’ or ‘concrete,’” the federal attorneys wrote, partially quoting legal precedent.

The federal contractor requirement is scheduled to take effect in January and includes limited exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

Florida’s lawsuit is one of three challenges that the state has filed against federal vaccination requirements. Moody’s office Wednesday challenged a vaccination mandate for workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers that take part in the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Florida and other states, along with businesses, have also challenged a vaccination requirement that would apply to employees of businesses with 100 or more workers. That requirement has been put on hold as the legal battles continue.

The Republican-dominated Legislature this week also held a special session to pass a package of bills aimed at preventing vaccination mandates in the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bills Thursday.

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