ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County and the City of St. Petersburg said early Thursday they were reviewing an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis that cancels fines over the past year from local governments on people and businesses over COVID-19 restrictions.
What You Need To Know
- DeSantis cancels city, county fines over the past year related to COVID-19 regulations
- Orange County, City of St. Petersburg say they're reviewing the executive order
- St. Pete mayor's office: "Cities like St. Petersburg have had to take the lead"
“It is worth noting that local actions and protocols have helped to keep Floridians safe and healthy, and Ron DeSantis has benefited from that,” the office of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wrote in an email statement to Spectrum News.
“Time and again, in the absence of state leadership and a coherent strategy, cities like St. Petersburg have had to take the lead. We will continue to do so as best we can."
The executive order emerged late Wednesday and said the governor would remit any COVID-related fines imposed between March 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021 by “any political subdivision of Florida.”
It remains unclear what DeSantis’s order means for counties and cities such as Orange County, St. Petersburg, and Tampa, which have been citing businesses including restaurants and bars for violating coronavirus safety protocols. It also remains unclear whether businesses that have paid citations will get their money back.
“With this executive order coming down during after hours, our team is currently reviewing ...” Orange County spokeswoman Despina McLaughlin told Spectrum News in an email early Thursday.
Last year, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings issued a mask mandate in public places, and in December he allowed strike teams to visit businesses unannounced to check on compliance of coronavirus safety guidelines. Under the policy, the businesses would be warned and reminded of the rules, and noncompliance found in repeat visits could result in fines. Nightclubs and bars, plus other businesses in the county have received citations.
DeSantis early Thursday reiterated his stance on the issue, saying at a news briefing: "I 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. The evidence is in on that, so we just want to really go forward fresh. And we want people to make decisions, but we don’t want it under the heavy-handed government.”
Hank Gheith, owner of Hank's Crab Shack and Seafood in Orange County, supported the governor's move.
His business was fined $300 by the county after a so-called strike team visited his businses and said he was not following proper face-covering protocols.
"I refused to pay it," Gheith said. "We are hurting for a year plus. To come and take $300 is ridiculous."
“I am glad he did it, basically hitting small owners that are already hurting,” he added.
According to county officials he Gheith's business was one of 28 issued a $300 fines by the strike teams.
Bar owner Roger Wall owns the Embassy Irish Bar in downtown. He has not received any citations, and said he continues to follow safety protocols.
“When it comes to making sure my customers are safe, I know what we do, I am confident,” said Wall.
He is curious what’s next for Orange County.
“What happens tomorrow, and the day after?" he said. "Is the strike force in place are they still going to come around?”
DeSantis signed a previous executive order last year banning local governments from enforcing mask mandate violations, but many jurisdictions worked around his order.
In his Wednesday order, DeSantis wrote that the state Board of Executive Clemency approved his proposal on the remission of fines and that “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 of the course of the year.”
The order doesn’t apply to fines imposed on assisted living facilities, hospitals, or other health care providers, the order says.