DeSantis' executive order appears to end local fines related to COVID-19 restrictions

Posted at 2:44 AM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 08:03:17-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An executive order issued Wednesday evening by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appears to end local fines related to COVID-19 restrictions.

The order applies to fines local governments issued to people and businesses related to COVID-19 restrictions between March 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021.

The order states, “…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 course of the past year.”

The governor issued the order after the Board of Executive Clemency adopted his proposal to remit the fines.

“It orders that any fines that have been collected shall be returned to the person who paid them. Any fines that remain unpaid are now forgiven. It’s against any ordinance passed by any local government,” said legal analyst Jeffrey Swartz.

Over the course of the pandemic, cities and counties passed orders limiting gatherings and mandating mask-wearing as the virus spread.

“It basically addresses itself to fines. I do not see anything that grants them setting aside their convictions for violating the ordinances. I don’t really think it has the power to do that. So this is really only giving back money to those paid fines,” said Swartz.

Earlier this month, Tampa City Council briefly suspended liquor licenses at several bars and clubs.

That included Prana, Ybor’s premier nightspot, which was given a seven-day suspension starting April 5.

An attorney representing the club said he plans to argue to the city he doesn’t believe actions taken from a municipal mask mandate are in compliance with the new order.

“We’re simply going to present this to the city attorney’s office and say it’s a different rodeo today so take a better look and certainly pay attention to the fact that my clients have not been running amok. They’ve been doing everything that they reasonably could to make sure that they maintain a safe facility,” said attorney Luke Lirot.

ABC Action News reached out to the state to clarify what is applicable under the new order, as well as local governments and mayors on both sides of Tampa Bay.

St. Petersburg’s mayor’s office states, "We will review this action. It is worth noting that local actions and protocols have helped to keep Floridians safe and healthy, and Ron DeSantis has benefited from that. 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."

St. Petersburg police said Codes Compliance has issued 267 municipal ordinance violations for COVID-19 executive order violations but notes the process for any fines is handled by the Clerk of Court.

Governor Ron Desantis addressed local government's power and shutdowns, including those outside of Florida, during a news conference Monday.

“I think that there needs to be protection for folks. And you shouldn't have your entire livelihood just up ended, because of one emergency dictate by somebody and a mayor or a local government,” he said during the news conference.

Right now, state lawmakers are considering a bill restricting local government’s emergency management powers. It centers on significant emergency orders that limit actions like travel, assembling or working, for example. The bill would limit the duration of the order and how long it could be extended. Already it’s cleared its first of three committees.

As local entities have time to review the order, ABC Action News expects to learn more about the impact.

“I think that this is more of a political show than it is substantive in nature. I just don’t think that it really is gonna be that important in the terms of how much money was actually collected,” said Swartz.

The order is not applicable to enforcement the state took, or fines imposed on assisted living facilities, hospitals or healthcare providers.