DeSantis: 'COVID Fines Are Out Of Control'
Local governments in Florida and their ability to strictly enforce measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are being targeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis’ executive order issued late Wednesday requires local governments to cancel fines issued for violating local COVID-19 orders between March 1, 2020 and this past Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s conservative or liberal; I just think those fines are out of control, and we want to make sure that folks are protected, said the governor. “Most of those restrictions have not been effective, that’s just the reality -- the evidence is in on that. And so we want to really go forward fresh, and we want people to make decisions – but we don’t want it under the heavy hand of government.”
The order doesn't apply to state COVID-19 orders, or remit fines imposed on assisted-living facilities or hospitals. It gained support from the state Cabinet's two Republican members -- Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, opposed the measure.
“You won’t hear this from Governor DeSantis – [but] this pandemic has been painful,” Fried said in her latest video. “While he lashes out at everyone else like he’s the victim, we all know who the real victims are: every Floridian who has lost a loved one; lost a child; and lost a way of life. This has been so much harder than it had to be, and we know why – blind allegiance to an insurrectionist.”
Municipalities now exploring the effects of DeSantis’ order includes the city of Pensacola, where Mayor Grover Robinson says the impact will be indirect.
“We have never had a fine, we’ve had many people that we talked to that we’ve issued citations, but all of them have come within compliance,” said Robinson. “We quit doing individuals when the governor issued back in September the first directive about individuals.”
The mayor is concentrating on other ways to work with the state in battling the pandemic in the Panhandle.
“I don’t agree with the tactic he’s taking, but I’m not the governor,” said Robinson. “I’ve got to find the best way to work for our citizens and our community. And, at this point, it’s not worth getting into a counter-productive arguing match over it. What we need the governor to do – if this is the direction he’s going to be going – then we need him to get all possible supplies of vaccines to Escambia County.”
And therein lies the crux of Robinson’s concerns –getting enough vaccine and getting it distributed – a pair of continuing local challenge.
“In Northwest Florida, we don’t have something like Orlando and some of these other large metropolitan areas have for distributing vaccine,” said the mayor. “So we need the best way for [DeSantis] to commit amounts that we can get up to our total amount. If we can be vaccinating 9,000 people a day in Escambia County that would help us get to a place faster where we don’t need to be worrying about masks.”
And the mayor reiterated – 9,000 is the magic number.
“If he wants us to be getting out of masks, he needs to be getting 9,000 vaccines a week to Escambia County; that’s 36,000 people a month,” said Robinson. “At that, we begin to make some real inroads in what we can do, and what we can get done, help cull down the numbers of what we see having in COVID and the impact of COVID.”
The fact that COVID-19-related fines were not assessed in Pensacola, says Robinson, can be credited to the city’s residents, and the work of Code Enforcement Officer Steve Richards.
“But it has gotten more and more difficult as we’ve gone forward,” said the mayor. “That’s what Steve and I talked about. I don’t want them to go do something that is going to be counterproductive in what we’re doing, and putting us as odds with the state.”
Pensacola notwithstanding, it’s not clear whether the governor's order would require local governments to pay back businesses that were fined, or cancel any that have not been paid.