By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Saying that he and allies have “embraced the science” of vaccine effectiveness, Gov. Ron DeSantis this week issued directives canceling local coronavirus emergency orders.
“That is an anti-science posture, to say that we need all these restrictions, even with mass vaccination,” DeSantis said during a bill-signing event at the tiki hut-style outdoor patio at The Big Catch at Salt Creek, a St. Petersburg restaurant.
The governor issued an executive order mandating that, effective July 1, “any emergency order issued by a political subdivision due to the COVID-19 emergency which restricts the rights or liberties of individuals or their businesses is invalidated.” He also issued an executive order that went into effect immediately and suspended “all local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on individuals and businesses.”
“I think folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point, if you’re saying that, you really are saying you don’t believe in the vaccines. You don’t believe in the data, you don’t believe in the science,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis made the announcement about the local-government orders as he signed an emergency-management bill (SB 2006) that includes a permanent ban on what have become known as COVID-19 vaccine “passports.” Also, the bill limits the authority of cities and counties in future health-care crises.
“The legislation creates a default legal presumption that during any emergency, our businesses should be free from government mandates to close, and our schools should remain open for in-person instruction for our children,” DeSantis said.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, was quick to criticize DeSantis’ executive orders. Kriseman held a news conference at the same restaurant DeSantis used as a backdrop for announcing the executive orders and signing the emergency-management bill.
“I do know that a large-scale event order that the county has in place, that we have in place, the (order) requiring the wearing of masks indoors, the six-foot separation of tables indoors, the maintaining of social distancing that we have in place, all goes away. All of it,” Kriseman said.
Kriseman also rejected DeSantis’ argument that keeping restrictions in place is unnecessary based on the number of fully vaccinated Floridians.
“We’re not even at 50 percent vaccination yet in Pinellas County, let alone the rest of the state. If that’s the case, then why isn’t the CDC ‘no more masks?’” Kriseman said, referring to guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
JUST AMONG FRIENDS
DeSantis took his road show to West Palm Beach on Thursday to sign an elections overhaul passed by the Legislature.
The governor drew cheers from Republican lawmakers and his supporters who were on hand. But the bill immediately drew legal challenges, and DeSantis faced criticism for giving “exclusive” access to Fox News for the signing event.
After what Republicans and Democrats agree was a successfully run 2020 election, DeSantis and GOP lawmakers made a priority of the bill (SB 90), saying it was aimed at adding “integrity” to elections.
The new law will allow election supervisors to use drop boxes at early voting sites and “permanent” branch offices, so long as the boxes are staffed by their employees. Among other changes, the bill will require voters to request mail-in ballots more frequently than in the past.
The law also takes aim at ballot “harvesting,” which involves people and groups being able to collect and deliver ballots for voters. DeSantis touted the new restriction to the hosts of “Fox & Friends” as the program broadcast the sole live feed of the governor and supporters, while local media were barred from entering the West Palm Beach venue.
“We’re not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box,” DeSantis told the Fox News hosts.
A coalition of opponents, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Fund Inc. and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, quickly filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee, contending that the bill violates First Amendment rights and would place an “undue burden on the right to vote.”
The Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause also filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the bill is unconstitutional and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist on Tuesday launched a third gubernatorial bid — the second as a Democrat — as he threw his hat into the ring to try to defeat DeSantis in 2022.
The 64-year-old Crist announced his latest campaign in St. Petersburg and unveiled its theme: “Florida For All.”
“The deck is stacked against the middle class, aided and abetted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in Tallahassee,” Crist said. “This is a governor who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t care and doesn’t think about you.”
Crist is no stranger to Florida politics, having been elected as a Republican state senator, education commissioner and attorney general before getting the keys to the governor’s mansion, where he served as a Republican from 2007 to 2011. After a failed independent bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for governor in 2014 and was elected to the U.S. House in 2016.
Crist could have two formidable challengers in the Democratic primary, as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando are widely expected to run.
Fried said Tuesday she had “communications” with Crist and indicated she would rather see him run for re-election to his congressional seat.
“It is a time when we need his voice and his vote up in Washington D.C.,” Fried said. “His seat is one that only probably Charlie Crist can hold on to. So, I’d really like to have encouraged him to stay in Congress. But, certainly today is Charlie’s day, and I wish him the best of luck.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended local-government coronavirus emergency orders on Monday, as he signed a bill that makes permanent his ban on COVID-19 vaccine “passports” and limits the authority of cities and counties in future health-care crises.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We have family members still dying of COVID. But you have to ultimately weigh the balance of people’s lives and their mental health and the amount of suicides and all of the things that go wrong by locking our citizens down.” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.