(The Center Square) – As COVID-19 cases soar across Florida, at least three counties and one school board have imposed mask and vaccine mandates that risk challenges from Gov. Ron DeSantis as he campaigns across the country against such “whims of bureaucratic authorities.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings Wednesday, and Broward County Mayor Steve Geller Thursday, re-imposed indoor mask requirements in county buildings.
Meanwhile, the Broward County School Board Wednesday night became the state’s first district to reinstate mask mandates for students and staff when school begins in two weeks.
The three county orders do not apply to businesses, leaving mask and vaccine requirements to employers and private property owners, but Orange County’s order requires all 4,200 nonunion county employees to get first coronavirus vaccine shot by the end of August and second by the end of September.
Leon County Wednesday announced it, too, will require a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. Employees have until Oct. 1 to prove vaccination or face termination.
It is uncertain if the measures violate Senate Bill 2006, adopted during their 2021 session and signed into law by DeSantis last month.
SB 2006 gives the governor the power to invalidate local emergency measures put installed during the pandemic, including mask mandates and limitations on business operations.
The new law bans any business or government from requiring proof of vaccination and fines businesses or institutions up to $5,000 per if they require vaccine documentation for entry, service or participation.
DeSantis was in Salt Lake City on Wednesday addressing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and through Thursday had not directly responded to renewed calls for preventive restrictions.
In his 15-minute address, DeSantis declared Floridians are “free to choose” how to shield themselves from the disease, vowing to resist government-issued restrictions based on “the whims of bureaucratic authorities,” who want to consign Americans into a “Faucian dystopia.”
But the governor may find little to quibble about under SB 2006 regarding the county orders, according to DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw.
Orange County’s emergency declaration urges residents to wear masks and businesses to require them but doesn’t impose a mandate and is “not inconsistent with Gov. DeSantis’ position,” she told media outlets Thursday.
Miami-Dade’s and Broward’s orders require masks at county buildings, but doesn’t impose restrictions on businesses or restaurants that “run afoul of state law,” Pushaw said.
“We’re waiting to see if those local authorities are actually imposing mandates, in the sense that they will attempt to fine or press charges against people who violate mask guidance, or if they are making recommendations for voluntary compliance in the same manner that Mayor Demings did,” she said. “Unless I missed something, Mayor Levine-Cava hasn’t said that Miami-Dade County will fine or charge individuals or businesses for COVID violations.”
Broward County School Board’s decision to reinstate its mask mandate, on the other hand, “will be addressed,” Pushaw said, referring to DeSantis’ call for a special session of the Legislature “to ensure all Florida school districts are mask-optional.”
During a July 22 conference at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, the governor dismissed “imposing compulsory masks on kids. We’re not doing that in Florida.”
Parents, not the government, will determine what’s best for Florida students, he said, denouncing “a campaign from Washington to try to change that.”
If CDC guidance changes – new guidance is expected soon – DeSantis said he’s discussed calling a special session with House Speaker Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, “to do something from the legislative perspective” in mandating no mask mandates.