ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order invalidating local emergency orders and COVID-19 restrictions.
He signed a bill Monday morning that goes into effect July 1, but also signed an executive order to bridge the gap from now until then.
“It not only reigns in the ability of local governments to do this stuff. It provides more check against the state which I fully support," said Governor DeSantis.
DeSantis cited the efficacy of vaccines and the number of elderly Floridians that have been vaccinated thus far. He said telling people they still had to wear masks and follow other COVID-19 restrictions even after being vaccinated undermined public confidence in the vaccines.
He emphasized his endorsement of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, but expressed his displeasure with the government keeping restrictions and issuing fines to businesses now that the vaccine is readily available.
“The evidence tells us that we over a year into this. People can act with normal order but emergency orders, these extraordinary measures at this point are not justifiable," said Governor DeSantis.
The governor slammed states whose governments have imposed stricter COVID-19 restrictions that have lasted longer and said Florida will lead the way back to normalcy.
Private businesses, of course, can still require masks upon entry and enforce social distancing and other protective measures.
"Right now it means nothing. We will continue what we’re doing and I think the customers and our staff, until we feel safer otherwise, and that people will support us if we do as we do open up and we will we just don’t know when," said Veronica Danko, the owner of The Independent Bar & Cafe.
The business has required staff wear masks and customers wear masks inside the building throughout much of the pandemic, part of a group of restaurants and music venues that established a 'safe and sound' group.
The bill also cements the emergency order that banned vaccine passports.
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman came out quickly against the Governor's moves.
“It comes down to politics and, unfortunately, this administration and this legislature have applied politics to healthcare in the state of Florida. And who loses when that happens? All the residents of the state of Florida," said Kriseman.
Kriseman calls the Governor's actions "hypocritical."
“If you listen during the session you’ll often hear them complain about Washington. Washington shouldn’t tell us what to do. We know our state better than Washington. Well, the legislature shouldn’t tell local government what to do. We know our cities and counties better than they do," Kriseman said.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor stated, "The best decisions are made by local authorities who are closest to the unique health and welfare needs of our communities. We will continue to follow CDC guidelines and encourage all of our residents to get vaccinated so that we can safely return to a sense of normalcy."
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman said it underscores the need for vaccines.
"I think it’s premature because it confuses the issue of how critically important it is to stay safe and to use the mask as a means of that safety but it also is important to recognize that there is no time to waste to get you’re vaccine now," she said.
While local governments interpreted the order, the Florida Department of Education clarified that the orders do not impact school districts policies for the remainder of the school year.
You can read the bill in its entirety HERE.