Gov. DeSantis suspends COVID-19 emergency orders across Florida

Governor signed an executive order suspending local pandemic rules

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Monday morning suspending all remaining local emergency orders across Florida related to COVID-19.

DeSantis announced the executive order Monday during a news conference at the Big Catch at Salt Creek, a seafood restaurant, in St. Petersburg. The executive order was signed along with a bill that changes the emergency powers of local governments — SB 1924.

[READ THE BILL HERE]

The governor was joined by state Sen. President Wilton Simpson and state House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

“We need a new construct for these emergency powers that have been used throughout the country — lesser so, obviously, from the state of Florida’s perspective — but certainly we’ve had local governments do it,” DeSantis said.

[TRENDING: 16-year-old girl killed in Orlando shooting | Dolphin gets front-row seat for astronauts’ splashdown | 7 ways to pamper mom]

The governor then took swipes at the COVID-19 policies and restrictions seen in other parts of the country, while touting his own efforts to remove the emergency rules and orders put in place last spring, early on in the pandemic.

“We worked very hard, particularly since (last) summer, to jettison those types of policies and we focused on lifting people up,” DeSantis said. “We wanted people going back to work. We wanted our kids to be in school — we thought that that was very important that parents have the ability to send their kids to school — and we wanted our economy to be healthy. We wanted our society to be healthy. We wanted people to be happy living in Florida.”

The governor said the new legislation puts safeguards in place to protect against government overreach in the event of an emergency. It grants the legislature the ability to overrule an emergency order by the governor.

The new law also “creates a default legal presumption that during any emergency our businesses should be free from government mandates to close, and our schools should remain open for in-person instruction for our children,” according to DeSantis.

The governor said the restaurant he chose as the backdrop for this bill signing has been subject to fines from local governments.

“We’ve seen some of the abuses. We want to make sure that we stop that here, at the Big Catch. You know, they’ve had to deal with some of these local ordinances local restrictions,” DeSantis said. “I know they’ve been fined for doing things, and we want we want that to be something in the past.”

The law also requires emergency orders come in 7-day increments and local governments to “satisfy demanding and continuous justifications” for those orders to extend further, but only to a maximum of 42 days. It also gives the Florida governor the power to invalidate a local emergency order.

The bill is set to take effect on July 1. Because the law does not take action immediately, DeSantis signed an executive order suspending all remaining emergency orders that relate to COVID-19.

[READ THE EXECUTIVE ORDER]

The governor later clarified that these rules apply only to government and still allows private businesses, such as grocery stores or theme parks, to continue putting masking rules in place.

News 6 has reached out to elected leaders in every Central Florida county to get their reaction to the governor’s executive order. This story will be updated as more responses come in. Read their responses below:

Orange County

Orange County has a mask mandate still in place as of the executive order. On Monday afternoon during a COVID-19 update, Mayor Jerry Demings said he has not seen the executive order. He declined to comment on what this order means for Orange County’s mandate until after reading it saying, “we’ll see.”

“I would just suggest that’s really no way to run the state of Florida is to make announcements and not give clarity to the announcements and so today I contemplate whether or not I would make any comments about the executive order especially since I have not seen it the actual wording,” Demings said.

The actual executive order was emailed to news media during the Demings’ news conference after 4:30 p.m.

Shortly before 7 p.m., he provided a statement to the media.

“In review of the governor’s executive orders, I am not surprised. He first indicated that the order would not take effect until July 1, 2021, and then quickly changed it to be ‘effective immediately.’ He then offered new language that invalidates a local government’s ability to take action during a public health emergency. Orange County Government will continue to review its statutory authority and will respond accordingly. Governor DeSantis has been slow to act in responding to the pandemic, which has caused local elected officials (mayors) to take action to fill the void and keep their residents safe.

“I want Orange County residents to know that I will continue to make decisions in the best interest of their health, safety and welfare and will not wait on the governor to tell me what to do.

“This immediate past legislative session is proof positive of how the state is preempting local home-rule powers – that is not good for democracy.

“When I ask myself, ‘What is really the purpose of the governor’s actions?’ I conclude that his actions are part of a larger partisan strategy by the Republican Party to usurp the authority of Democrat-led urban counties and cities across America. We expect better from the governor of Florida,” Demings said.

Sumter County

“Our local state of emergency was scheduled to end on 5/4/21 with no plans for an extension; therefore, there is no impact to Sumter County”

Brevard County

“Brevard County had no mandates in place. We never closed our beaches, we have long reopened our government facilities to the public, and while we encourage employees to wear masks, it’s not a mandate. We think it’s just good common courtesy.”

Seminole County

“Seminole County Executive Order 2021-020, requiring the use of social distancing and facial coverings, has been suspended, effective Monday, May 3, 2021, in compliance with the Governor’s suspension of all local government mandates. As such, Seminole County no longer requires members of the public to wear facial coverings in public facilities, businesses, places of assembly, and locations providing personal services, such as salons and spas. The Governor’s Order does not prevent individual businesses from instituting measures such as physical distancing, mask use, and temperature screenings; therefore, the requirements for face masks or other protocols may remain in place at local or national businesses. According to the School Superintendent, masks and social distancing requirements will continue at Seminole County Schools through the end of the 2020/21 school year. County residents are strongly encouraged to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance with respect to vaccinations, social distancing, and mask use.”

Volusia County

“The County is awaiting receipt of the Governor’s new executive order. We will need to review the wording in the order and how it affects the County’s directives.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.