Orange County mayor plans to fine businesses up to $15,000 for serious COVID-19 violations

Executive order will focus on repeat offenders

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is following through with his threat to levy fines against local businesses that repeatedly disobey the mask mandate, social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 safety measures.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is following through with his threat to levy fines against local businesses that repeatedly disobey the mask mandate, social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 safety measures.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is following through with his threat to levy fines against local businesses that repeatedly disobey the mask mandate, social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 safety measures.

The county on Thursday evening provided a draft of the new executive order aimed at gaining compliance from businesses. According to that document, a fine issued by law enforcement or code enforcement will not exceed $500. If the fine is posed by a special magistrate, that number goes to $1,000 per day for a first offense and $5,000 per day for subsequent offenses.

For the most serious violations that are deemed “irreparable or irreversible in nature,” the amount could swell to $15,000 per violation.

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The fining process is not criminal in nature, which means no arrests would be made.

Demings first floated the idea of fining rebellious business owners during one of his twice-weekly coronavirus press briefings on Nov. 23.

At that time, he said he’d spoken to the county attorney and determined that he had the power to issue fines to businesses, despite the governor’s executive order, but he would prefer to see bars, restaurants and similar establishments follow the rules without being punished.

“The county attorney’s office has advised me that because we are currently under a state of emergency, that I do have the authority via either executive order or through ordinance to create penalties or fines for businesses who are deemed to be noncompliant. We have chosen not to do that at this time because I will tell you that through general community concern and peer pressure, we have typically been able to get compliance without it,” Demings said at the time.

His tune changed Monday when asked about massive, maskless crowds at an Orlando nightclub concert during the Thanksgiving weekend.

“I have directed the county attorney to draft an executive order that will likely give me the authority to institute some form of penalties. This would apply to businesses that are habitual violators of the guidance that has been put in place at this time. So, you know, for weeks now, you know, I’ve come in, asked for voluntary compliance and if we have a few bad actors, that’s what we’ll be targeting. It won’t be the businesses who are cooperating and who are compliant. It will be the bad actors,” the mayor said this week.

Demings said during that same news conference Monday that COVID-19 strike teams have visited more than 5,400 Orange County businesses and have seen a 97% compliance rate. For the 670 businesses that have been re-inspected, the compliance rate is 81%.

The mayor plans to speak more about the draft executive order during a coronavirus briefing Friday afternoon.