SOURCE: Tampa Bay Times

The Florida Senate on Wednesday approved a proposal that would extend COVID-19 legal protections for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 22-13 along nearly straight party lines to pass the measure (Senate Bill 7014), sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills.

The protections were approved during last year’s legislative session but are set to expire March 29 unless they are extended. They address lawsuits involving issues such as transmission of COVID-19 and treatment of people with COVID-19.

The bill would extend the protections until June 1, 2023.

Burgess said health care providers should not be “looking over their shoulder” and worrying about lawsuits as they care for patients and residents amid the pandemic.

But Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said lawmakers shouldn’t provide immunity from lawsuits to health care providers. “Our parents, grandparents and loved ones deserve better than that,” Farmer said.

Under the law passed last year, health care providers can still face COVID-19 lawsuits. But the legal protections, for example, require a higher standard of proof for plaintiffs. In such cases, plaintiffs have to prove “by the greater weight of the evidence that the health care provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct.”

Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, was the only Democrat who crossed party lines to vote for the bill. An identical House bill (House Bill 7021) started moving forward last week and needs to be approved by the Judiciary Committee before it would be ready to go to the full House.