Florida governor signs law preempting local COVID edicts

Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session, Friday, April 30, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis moved to suspend all remaining COVID-19 restrictions imposed by communities across his state, signing into law on Monday freshly passed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the pandemic — including mask mandates, limitations on business operations and the shuttering of schools.

In addition to signing the law, which goes into effect July 1, the Republican governor also signed a pair of executive orders to move more quickly, meaning that existing coronavirus measures enacted by local governments — such as requiring masks — would be abolished immediately.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” DeSantis said, “but I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom.”

Some municipalities have already lifted restrictions on their own. But Miami-Dade County, for example, still requires masks in all indoor public spaces and outdoors if people are within 10 feet (about three meters) of each other. The governor's executive order now rescinds those rules. However, private businesses — including theme parks and hospitals — can impose restrictions on their own.

Some mayors, particularly those aligned with the Democratic Party, have decried Republican-led preemptions as a power grab against local government’s ability to control a potential resurgence of the coronavirus but also restrict their ability to respond to future public health emergencies.

“It feels like he’s spiking the ball on the 10-yard line,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, whose city is within a county that was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. “He’s been following political ideology more than science during this whole pandemic.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman suggested that it was thanks to local governments that the death toll wasn't higher.

“To be clear, cities like St. Pete, Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Miami Beach, saved Florida and the governor’s behind throughout this pandemic. Can you imagine if each city had been led by Ron DeSantis? How many lives would have been lost? What would our economy look like today?” Kriseman tweeted.