For all that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s Republican leaders play up their “freedom” agenda at the expense of COVID-19 mitigation, an average Floridian might conclude the coronavirus isn’t such a big deal anymore.
So why are the state House and Senate advancing legislation extending the liability shield enacted last year, to protect health care providers against medical malpractice lawsuits arising from the COVID pandemic? The shield is scheduled to expire on March 21.
That’s what Democrat Kelly Skidmore of Palm Beach County wanted to know during a House Health and Human Services Committee hearing Friday on a new bill, PCB 22-01, to extend that protection through June 1, 2023.
Skidmore couldn’t help remarking on the “contradictory narrative” between the COVID danger the bill ostensibly recognizes and coolness to mask-wearing and vaccinations expressed by the state’s GOP leaders.
“We keep pushing out that this is over, that we need to be back to normal, and yet we sponsor legislation and we have legislation that extends these liability protections,” she said.
In the end, Skidmore joined the 15-5 majority in approving the legislation.
Colleen Burton, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, who presented the bill, had this explanation:
“Optimistically, I think we all hoped that the pandemic would be in its final stages by this coming March but, unfortunately, we also are quite aware that mutations of the COVID-19 virus continue to prolong the pandemic. It is vitally important that we continue to protect our front-line workers as they fight the pandemic,” Burton said.
Identical legislation (SB 7014) has cleared both the Judiciary and Rules committees in the Senate.
Both versions would make it harder for people injured by medical providers to win compensation in court if the provider can attribute the harm to COVID.