DeSantis’ clash with Florida’s cruise industry over vaccine passports will cost us all
Gov. Ron Desantis’ ill-thought-out ban on vaccine passports is keeping Florida’s cruising industry in limbo, potentially costing the state tourist dollars and jobs.
But apparently that’s OK with DeSantis, as long as he scores political points with his GOP base. His ambitions — another term as governor and maybe even the presidency — are once again more important than the good of the state.
Last month, DeSantis filed a long-shot suit against the U .S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an attempt to force the agency to allow cruising to resume without any rules. Legal experts immediately labeled it a political stunt, because the federal government has broad control to regulate ports of entry and international commerce. A federal judge in Tampa now has the case.
But that’s just more hype from the governor. The real issue is the measure he signed into law last month that prohibits businesses from requiring that customers have vaccine passports in order to receive services. The law was passed without a carve-out for the cruise business, which has been shuttered since March 2020 because of COVID. And that has put the cruise lines, desperate to reopen, in a difficult position.
The CDC created a path forward for the industry, releasing a set of rules that allow ships to sail as soon as June 26. The rules — which recommend vaccines but don’t require them — allow cruise ships at U.S. ports to require at least 98 percent of their crew members and 95 percent of their passengers to be vaccinated. There’s also another option: Ships can restart after a two-day test cruise to make sure COVID-prevention protocols are working in the vaccine’s absence.
Those are reasonable safety measures (for those undaunted by memories of the ships filled with sick passengers). Some cruise lines have indicated they may go even further, requiring all passengers over 16 to be vaccinated.
But under Florida’s new law, which goes into effect July 1, cruise lines aren’t allowed to ask passengers if they are vaccinated. They could be fined $5,000 each time they require vaccination proof from a patron.
All of that has put DeSantis on a collision course with the cruise industry, a strange spot for a Republican who claims to be pro-business to be in.
And yet there was the governor on Thursday, holding a press conference in Key Biscayne where he tried to deflect attention from his own bad law and blame the CDC for not restarting cruises.
“Who’s the one suing the CDC to open the ports?” he said. “Under current Florida law, they are absolutely able to do it.. . . . The problem on this the whole time has been the CDC.”
We’re used to the governor’s grandstanding. But this time around, his politics-above-all attitude is hurting regular people. Before the cruise industry stalled, about 60,000 South Floridians worked for the cruise lines or in support jobs. Now, many have seen their hours cut or their jobs disappear entirely.
The cruise industry wants to go back to work. The CDC isn’t the issue here. The badly conceived vaccine passport law is.