Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill and executive order Monday that immediately ceases all local Covid-19 emergency orders in the state, after Florida previously let localities impose their own mask mandates and stricter restrictions, and as Republican leaders are now going further to block pandemic-era restrictions as vaccines become more available.
DeSantis signed a bill that will invalidate all local Covid-19 restrictions and orders as of July 1, as well as an executive order that immediately suspends the local emergency orders until the law takes effect.
Florida previously dropped all of its statewide coronavirus restrictions in September and had waived fines on individuals and businesses related to local Covid-19 restrictions, but individual localities were allowed to implement their own mask mandates and restrictions.
The order will apply only to government orders and will not affect businesses in the state that have mask mandates in place like Walt Disney World, which confirmed Monday their mask requirement and other restrictions will still remain in effect.
The legislation would also limit future governors’ powers by restricting statewide orders to 42 days and empowering the state legislature to overrule orders set by the governor.
The bill also blocks vaccine passports requiring people to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, strengthening the state’s prohibition against them after DeSantis previously signed an executive order barring them in April.
DeSantis cited the widespread availability of vaccines as a key reason behind the new directive, arguing at a press conference Monday that people who still want restrictions in place when many are vaccinated are “really saying you don’t believe in the vaccines.”
“We’re no longer in a state of emergency,” DeSantis said Monday when signing the bill. “People are going to be able to make decisions, and they have the wherewithal to protect themselves with vaccines if they want.”
DeSantis’ action has already come under fire from Democrats who are critical of the governor forcing local governments to lift restrictions against their will as Covid-19 continues to spread in the state. “The party of small government once more exercising big government policies,” Orlando-area state Rep. Anna Eskamani tweeted Monday.
42%. That’s the percentage of Floridians that have so far received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to public health data compiled by the New York Times, ranking 29th of all states nationwide. The state is still recording more than 4,000 Covid-19 cases per day on average, according to the Times, though cases have fallen by 23% over the past two weeks.
DeSantis follows other GOP governors and state legislatures that have taken similar action to curb local governments’ abilities to impose their own restrictions. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a law banning local mask mandates on Friday, though the law won’t take effect until early July, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order last week that takes away local governments’ authority to issue mask mandates and requires local health departments to lift restrictions by the end of May. Kansas has also passed a law that empowers residents to file civil lawsuits against local governments over Covid-19 restrictions, which has led to many localities dropping their restrictions as a result, and Wyoming enacted a law limiting local orders to no more than 10 days despite the Republican governor calling the legislation “premature.” The restrictions on local orders come after many Republican governors have moved in recent months to completely lift statewide restrictions and mask mandates in response to falling cases and rising vaccinations, despite public health officials urging them not to do so.
Republican governors’ decision to lift state and local restrictions comes as many of their states have the highest share of residents who are uncertain or unwilling to get the Covid-19 vaccine, meaning the virus may continue to spread more readily in those states if fewer residents are fully vaccinated. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, 20% of Florida residents are unwilling to get the vaccine and a further 16% are uncertain about gettin