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Order bars court mask, distancing requirements

Chief judges in the state won’t be allowed to require masks or social distancing in courthouses, under an administrative order issued Thursday by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.

The order, which goes into effect Nov. 15, will allow people who attend court proceedings to wear masks if they choose and will require courts to provide masks to people who request them, but it will prohibit judges from mandating masks. Canady’s order noted that the number of new COVID-19 cases in Florida has steadily waned over the past 10 weeks.

The order is intended “to address the most recent developments and continue to mitigate the effects of the public health emergency on the judicial branch and its participants during and after the emergency,” the order said. Canady in July also issued an order that prohibited mask and social-distancing requirements.

But the July order said that “if warranted by local health conditions,” chief judges could require people to wear masks in courthouses or social distance during court proceedings. That exception was not included in the order issued Thursday.

The new order advised chief judges to “take all necessary steps to support the remote conduct” of court proceedings that do not have to be conducted in person.

“Participants who have the capability of participating by electronic means in remote appellate or trial court proceedings must do so,” Canady’s order said. Canady, a former Republican state legislator and congressman, issued the new order as Gov. Ron DeSantis intensifies his opposition to pandemic-related mandates.

DeSantis has called the Legislature into a special session on Nov. 15 to push back against White House attempts to require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. DeSantis also announced Thursday that Florida will join Georgia, Alabama and private plaintiffs in filing a legal challenge against the Biden administration over a rule requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for tens of millions of workers.

News Service of Florida