Earlier this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill exempting Florida’s colleges and universities from COVID related lawsuits. The schools would be shielded from those seeking to sue the school based on decisions made to close campuses forcing students online.
“The Legislature finds that during the COVID-19 public health emergency, educational institutions had little choice but to close or restrict access to their campuses in an effort to protect the health of their students, educators, staff and communities,” the bill read.
Florida’s lawmakers and numerous special interests were vying for COVID-liability protections at the outset of this Spring’s legislative session.
Colleges and universities across Florida were concerned about facing incoming class-action lawsuits, and Florida State University (FSU) was one of the schools depending on DeSantis signing the bill after they were hit with a lawsuit in May.
The suit claims FSU did not offer adequate refunds extended to students who were required to pay fees for uniquely on-campus services.
“To the extent refunds have been offered, the refunds have not been commensurate with the financial losses to the students and their families,” the lawsuit says.
Earlier this year, DeSantis also signed SB 72, a bill designed to shield businesses and business entities from COVID injury and death-related lawsuits. The law would place the burden of proof on the plaintiff to ensure the defendant did not, with all certainty, make a “good faith effort” to adhere to COVID regulations and public guidelines.
While COVID liability protections were one aspect of Tuesday’s bill signing, another component was the codifying of various tuition waivers. It would include a “buy-one-get-one” feature for higher level college students in programs of “strategic emphasis.” Programs falling under this category would be in the STEM fields.
Another tuition waiver would be a “Free Seat Program” offering online courses at no cost for people who have been out of college for a minimum of five years, as well as members of the military.
Tuition waivers will be capped at 1,000 recipients per year.
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