Florida begins its 2022 legislative session in January, and Volusia County’s elected officials and representatives in the state Legislature are already voicing their stance on one hot-button issue: COVID-19.
At a listening session in DeLand Oct. 6, state senators and representatives heard petitions from members of the public and local government officials.
One of the first speakers was County Chair Jeff Brower.
Brower broached several issues, including vaccine mandates.
“I have two sons in the Florida National Guard,” Brower said. “I really appreciate how you have come alongside the governor in keeping Florida free and safe. But our Florida National Guardsmen are being threatened with dishonorable discharge if they don’t — the one third of them who have chosen to not — take the vaccine.”
A spokeswoman for the Florida National Guard told The Beacon that no one who refuses a COVID-19 vaccination is being dishonorably discharged, or discharged at all.
“Unfortunately I can’t really speculate on if or how this situation could evolve in the future, but I can confirm that currently we are only focused on education and encouragement – not punitive action,” Florida National Guard Director of Public Affairs Caitlin Brown said.
The Pentagon issued a memorandum Aug. 24 mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all active and reserve duty members of the U.S. armed forces, including the National Guard.
While vaccine-related discharges are not happening now, Brower said he fears that could change.
Brower’s concerns about mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations were shared by a number of members of the public who addressed the delegation.
After one commenter took aim at the Volusia County School Board’s decision to mandate masks for students, Rep. Webster Barnaby, a naturalized American citizen originally from Great Britain, made his feelings known.
“I have been appalled at the way that institutions, public and private, in this great land that I adopted as my home have completely bastardized the U.S. Constitution, failing to respect the citizens’ rights as Americans,” he said. “… We are still a republic. We are not a democracy, where the mob rules. It’s a government of, for and by the people. If the people abrogate their responsibility, we will have the mob. We don’t need the mob.”
Barnaby represents District 27, which includes southwest Volusia County. Like all the other members of the Volusia County legislative delegation, he is a Republican.
Barnaby’s statements were met with applause, and followed by comments from Rep. Paul Renner.
Renner said there would be much debate about COVID-19 measures and mandates in the upcoming legislative session.
“These issues are ones I think about every day. Chair Barnaby took the words out of my mouth. I’m equally appalled,” Renner said.
Renner repre sent s District 24, which includes northwest Volusia County.
The legislators made it clear the 2022 session, which begins Jan. 11 in Tallahassee, would include bills that push back on federal COVID-19 vaccination measures.
“The good news is,” Renner said, “we have a strong governor, we have a strong Legislature that, when in doubt, weighs in favor of freedom.”