Residents of Florida have seen all fines related to enforcement of pandemic measures struck down by a Republican Governor Ron Desantis Executive Order issued on March 11.
“A categorical, statewide remission of fines related to COVID-19 restrictions is warranted in light of the unprecedented local government restrictions imposed on individuals and businesses over the past year,” read the Order.
DeSantis and the Florida Board of Executive Clemency eliminated all fines issued by “any political subdivision of Florida” from March 1, 2020 to March 10, 2021, excluding any orders or enforcements taken by the state itself, and any fines imposed on assisted living homes, hospitals, or other health care providers.
The motion passed the Board by a vote of 3-1. DeSantis was joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, fellow Republicans, and opposed by the lone Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
“I just think those fines are out of control, and we want to make sure that folks are protected. Most of those restrictions have not been effective. That’s just the reality,” DeSantis said according to WPTV. “We want people to make decisions, but we don’t want it under the heavy-handed government.”
In September, DeSantis similarly issued an Executive Order preventing local governments from issuing fines for violation of mask measures after Florida moved into Phase 3 of the reopening plan.
At the recent annual meeting of the Republican Party, the Conservative Political Action Conference, DeSantis spoke out against lockdown measures, although he was also one of many Governors who forced businesses to close in 2020, “Every Floridian has a right to earn a living and all businesses have a right to operate”
“Florida got it right and the lockdown states got it wrong,” he said, adding “We will never do any of these lockdowns again.”
Local officials not fans of the DeSantis Executive Order
The Order met with opposition from some Florida officials. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said DeSantis “loves to create confusion” in a five minute diatribe against the Governor, according to Orlando Sentinel.
“Perhaps it can even be debated that the governor’s inaction to enforce health and safety guidelines likely contributed to the spread of the virus in our state,” said the Mayor, who remarked his city began fining businesses and residents for not complying with measures.
Demigs said his department was looking at legal options to challenge the Order and would continue business as usual, “Strike teams will continue their mission of making unannounced visits in Orange County in furtherance of helping our businesses thrive by following recommended CDC and department of health guidelines,” he said.
Miami Beach Democrat Mayor Dan Gelber claimed the Order was “bizarre” and said, “It almost feels like he wants to be the champion for letting the virus surge through the community. I have no earthly idea why anyone would want to champion that cause,” according to a tweet from Miami Herald reporter Martin Vassolo.
Beacon of light
Heather Wooding, owner of Winter Garden Country House Restaurant said she was relieved, as her business was fighting a $300 fine issued after a “strike team” caught one of her employees violating the “mask at all times” mandate while the employee was walking. “My first and only answer is finally..It should have been sooner, but I’m glad he finally stepped in. We hope Demings doesn’t figure a way around it,” she said.
“There are not a whole lot of Floridians who are itching to move from Florida to lockdown states, but there are thousands and thousands of people who are seeking to leave the lockdowns behind for the greener pastures in Florida,” DeSantis said in a March State of the State address.
“We have long been known as the Sunshine State – but, given the unprecedented lockdowns we have witnessed in other states, I think the Florida sun now serves as a beacon of light to those who yearn for freedom.”