More COVID-19-related legislation is working its way through state legislatures.

The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to extend the timeline for protecting healthcare providers against COVID-related lawsuits. The bill extends the expiration date for protections the state legislature previously approved from March 2022 to June 1, 2023.

“The goal is to ensure that healthcare providers do not become targets of extensive litigation as a result of the pandemic,” state Sen. Danny Burgess (R) said, adding that the 2023 date aligns liability protections with the sunset date on the rest of the state’s COVID-19 policies.

“As our frontline workers are out there doing God’s work and protecting us, we want to make sure they’re not looking over their shoulders as they’re doing everything they can in an uncertain global pandemic,” he said. 

Jason Hand, vice president for public policy for the Florida Senior Living Association, testified that the protections were necessary, given uncertainties of how the federal government might interpret existing laws, how insurance companies might handle COVID-19 claims against providers “or what will be considered substantial compliance.”

Attorney Robin Khanal, a partner with the Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer in Orlando, said that he represents facilities in such cases, and in his opinion, the extension is necessary to “deter unfounded lawsuits.”

Stephen Cain of the Florida Justice Association countered that the sunset extension is not warranted. 

“Facilities, nursing homes, ALFs [assisted living facilities], hospitals should be held accountable for following appropriate infection control policies. This disincentivizes providers from doing the things that are necessary to help us end this pandemic,” Cain said.

“Let’s get back to common-sense legislation that will hold folks accountable for ending this pandemic,” he added.

Meanwhile in Ohio, a House-passed bill that would prohibit employers and schools from mandating vaccines that have not received full federal approval had its first Senate committee hearing Tuesday. HB218 would allow broad exemptions from vaccine requirements and also ban vaccine passports in public and private businesses.

“House Bill 218 is about protecting the medical freedom of Ohio students and workers,” state Rep. Al Cutrona (R), the bill’s sponsor, said in written testimony to the state Senate General Government Budget Committee.

David Mannion, CEO of Crandall Medical Center in Sebring, OH, told the committee that his nursing facility has lost almost 30% of its employees since the start of the pandemic and, in his opinion, a recent vaccine mandate could further exacerbate workforce challenges. 

“If our employees are forced to take this vaccine, many have stated that they will leave healthcare altogether. This means that years of experience, compassion and hard work would be exiting the workforce at a time it is needed the most,” Mannion said.