TAMPA, Fl.-- — Local agencies are waiting for more clarification after the Governor issued an executive order ending local fines related to COVID-19 restrictions.
The order remits the fines issued between March 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021.
“I clapped and screamed really loud. One of the issues, the reason we like what the Governor is saying is because is some of what the mayor wants us to do is be policemen. I didn’t sign up to be a policeman,” said Jon Reno LaBudde, who owns several bars and restaurants in Downtown St. Petersburg.
That includes the Landing at Jannus Live, the Big Catch, and Buya Ramen.
“This is a great state, everybody’s coming to this state. We are open for business and I think some politicians just make these blanket rules and blanket ordinances not knowing that they’re putting hundreds of thousands of people out of business,” he said.
LaBudde said they received nearly $2,000 in citations for social distancing and masks, but notes the citations were vague and didn’t identify whether it was a guest or staff member. They haven’t paid it yet.
Likewise, Italia Mia Restaurant received a citation. The manager said it happened when a mask fell below an employees nose.
“We can’t stop what we’re doing and making food and touching ourselves and our mask to fix it. So we were doing what’s right on our end but in the middle of that we got in trouble for that,” said manager Tabatha Kasten.
Data from the Pinellas County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller shows 290 COVID violations, all from St. Petersburg. They add up to nearly $69,000 in fines. So far, just over $21,000 has been paid.
“They’re really in limbo right now until we find the correct path to take,” said Ken Burke, the Pinellas County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller.
They’re waiting for further guidance from the state as their legal team reviews the order, including what happens to fines already collected and those not yet paid.
“It’d be my preference that we follow the governor’s order and for the folk’s who are entitled to a refund we issue a refund to them I think that’s the intent of all this,” Burke said. “I think it certainly would be unfair for the folks who have not paid that they get the free ride and the people who have paid get punished so that would be my intent of course we have to go through the legal gyrations to make sure that’s legal.”
Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers said its membership is reviewing the order’s potential impact on collections from COVID-19 related fines.
ABC Action News reached out to the Governor’s office for clarification. It said his order applies to all outstanding fines.
“I just think those fines are out of control and we want to make sure those folks are protected. Most of those restrictions have not been effective that’s just the reality. The evidence is in on that. So we really want to go forward fresh and we want people to make decisions but we don’t want it under the heavy hand of government,” said Governor Ron Desantis during a news conference Thursday.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office released this statement:
"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 benefitted 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."
Meanwhile, on the other side of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County said it issued just over $800 worth of fines over mask violations. There was five total with just one still unpaid.
The City of Tampa said it issued 62 civil citations to businesses for violating the face-covering requirement. It said 12 of 62 citations were voluntarily paid without a request for a hearing, totaling $2,200.
The city also noted the Governor’s order doesn’t apply to a hearing involving zoning code violations.
Earlier this month, the city temporarily suspended the liquor licenses of several bars and clubs.
The Governor’s office said the order applies to fees imposed by local governments but doesn’t reference suspensions.