Tuesday, January 18, 2022

State Legislature’s New Law Weakens Local Vaccine Mandates

In response to the Legislature’s anti-vaccine law, Delray Beach has ended its COVID-19 safety program.

City Manager Terrence Moore instituted the policy in August. It began with a requirement that non-union employees get vaccinated or get tested each week. Unions for the general employees and firefighters then signed on.

But House Bill 1B, which Gov. DeSantis signed the week before Thanksgiving, bans testing as the only option for those who refuse to get shots. Governments and businesses that require vaccinations for employees now must allow exemptions for medical reasons that include pregnancy and “anticipated pregnancy.”

Employees also can seek exemptions based on religion—even though no major religion opposes vaccines. They can seek exemptions based on “COVID-19 immunity,” even though getting the virus doesn’t provide lifetime immunity, like getting the mumps.

In addition, the law allows employees to file complaints with the state alleging that they have not been offered exemptions or have been unfairly denied. A city as large as Delray Beach could be fined $50,000 if the state rules for an aggrieved employee.

Facing all those demands, Moore emailed city commissioners and staff on Nov. 18 that the program could not continue. Moore acknowledged Monday that the “complexities” of complying with the law weren’t worth it, given the relatively small number of holdouts. That was the Legislature’s goal: Effectively ban employer vaccine requirements without banning them.

Moore told me that the program had shown good results. Roughly 85 percent of employees across all departments, he said, had received both shots. That would put Delray Beach well ahead of Florida. Statewide, only about 60 percent of those eligible have had both doses.

Moore reiterated that the goal was to protect not just employees but also the public. In his email, Moore expressed gratitude to staffers who had helped the city “to become a more healthy and safe place of employment.” City firefighters will continue to provide first, second and third shots.

Like other local governments, Delray Beach has relaxed its mask requirement in city buildings. Moore had planned to review the policy early next year, after assessing the holidays’ effects—if any—on COVID-19 metrics. There also may be the Omicron variant to consider.

Now, however, Moore said he is consulting with the city’s legal staff on whether Delray Beach even could reinstate such a policy if public safety demanded it, given the Legislature’s action. He will discuss the issue with the commission in January.

Healthcare providers in a bind

Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

Florida’s new law especially puts health care companies in a bind. They must comply with President Biden’s vaccination-or-testing requirement or risk the loss of Medicare and Medicaid contracts.

Baptist Health South Florida owns Boca Raton Regional Hospital. A hospital spokesman noted in an email that the state has sued to block those requirements. “We will follow those rulings closely,” he said.

Baptist Health, which also owns Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, has about 24,000 employees. The spokesman said 99 percent are “in compliance” with the company’s policy that all employees and volunteers be vaccinated by Oct. 31. Tenet Healthcare, which owns Delray and West Boca medical centers, has not instituted a vaccine requirement.

CP Group stays active

bric
Rendering of the master plan for BRIC

Apparently, Boca Raton-based CP Group hasn’t heard all the talk that the COVID-19 pandemic will disrupt the commercial office market.

CP Group, formerly Crocker Partners, wants updated zoning rules that would allow it to transform the Boca Raton Innovation Campus. CP Group envisions the former IBM buildings as the premier tech/research area in the Southeast. Discussions with the city continue.

Beyond the city, however, CP Group has been extremely active. In June, the company bought One Biscayne Tower in Miami as part of a joint venture. The 38-story tower gives CP Group two million square feet of office space in the city.

Also last summer, CP Group in another joint venture acquired CNN Center in Atlanta. It has 1.2 million square feet of office properties. Other acquisitions included a 600,000-square foot office complex in Denver and an office tower in Houston.

And this month, CP Group announced three new leases and one extension with law firms for space at One Boca Place on Glades Road just west of Interstate 95. According to a news release, CP Group has made $3 million in upgrades over the past year. The company bought One Boca Place in 2014 for $76.4 million.

Boca Square ALF Update

boca square
The current property that would become the ALF in Boca Square

The campaign against an assisted living facility in the Boca Square neighborhood keeps ramping up.

Many yards near Addison Mizner School on Southwest 12th Avenue now have signs opposing the proposed 128-bed facility. The signs say, “Save the Square.” Whelchel Partners has applied for a conditional use that would allow the project on a three-acre site that borders the northern edge of Boca Square.

As I have written, the project is not scheduled for any public hearing. But neighbors have organized early. Mayor Scott Singer, who has been on the commission since 2014, said he can’t remember receiving so many emails on a project “this early in the process.”

Delray Christmas tree lighting

Delray Beach Christmas Tree, photo courtesy of the Delray DDA

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. tonight, Delray Beach will hold its annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration. Sunday night featured the Menorah Lighting to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.

As usual, both events took place at Old School Square. The difference this year is that the city commission—meaning Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson—voted in August to terminate Old School Square’s lease of the property. Old School Square must leave by early February.

What happens to the cultural and arts complex if things reach that point is anyone’s guess. But I was reminded of what Old School Square has meant to Delray Beach when I reread Florida Trend magazine’s 1995 cover story that proclaimed it “The Best Run Town in Florida.”  A picture shows then-Mayor Tom Lynch and others in front of… Old School Square.

Boca school enrollment update

I wrote last week about progress on school crowding in Boca Raton. Numbers from the Palm Beach County School District confirm that progress should continue.

Four years ago, Boca Raton High School was roughly 20 percent over capacity. This year, it’s basically at capacity. The district projects that it will be just seven percent over capacity for the 2024-25 school year. Spanish River High will remain at its current 98 percent.

Indeed, the only problems loom at Verde K-8 and Calusa Middle. Both are in northwest areas where family growth is forecast to keep increasing. In three years, the district sees Calusa at 125 percent and Verde at 112 percent. Even Boca Raton Elementary, which now is at just 77 percent, is projected to be at 95 percent.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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