New Florida Law Allows Governor to Override Local Public Health Mandates

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law legislation that gives him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move codifies many of the actions DeSantis has already taken to suspend remaining COVID-19 restrictions imposed by local communities and will give Florida governors broad authority in future public health crises to override local edicts that do not conform to those issued by the state.

"We don't know what's going to happen in the future," DeSantis said, "but I think this creates a structure that's going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people's businesses jobs, schools and personal freedom."

The law goes into effect July 1, but DeSantis said he would issue an executive order to enact some provisions more quickly, including preemption of existing coronavirus measures enacted by local governments, such as mask mandates.

COVID Florida
Signage promoting safety guidelines to stop the spread of the coronavirus are seen at the Moon Crush Music Vacation at Seascape Golf Course on April 27 in Miramar Beach, Florida. On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that will give his office authority to override local health policies that contradict policies enacted by the state. Erika Goldring/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Some mayors, particularly those aligned with the Democratic Party, decried Republican-led preemptions as a power grab against local government's ability to control a potential resurgence of the coronavirus but also restrict their ability to respond to future public health emergencies.

"It feels like he's spiking the ball on the 10-yard line," said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, whose city is within a county that was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. "He's been following political ideology more than science during this whole pandemic."

Keeping such measures in place, the Republican governor said during a news conference, undermines confidence in the coronavirus vaccines.

"Folks that are saying that they need to be policing people at this point," DeSantis said, "are saying you don't believe in the vaccines, you don't believe in the data, you don't believe in the science."

Even as DeSantis advertised the move as a way to protect businesses and workers hurt by pandemic-related shutdowns and business restrictions, the new law would also ban businesses from requiring patrons to show proof vaccinations in order to get service.

The ban was already in place under an executive order he signed in late March. That order also barred government entities from issuing so-called vaccine passports.

The law also directs state health officials to draft a public health emergency management plan to serve as a template for future outbreaks.

"Today, in preempting both local governments AND businesses from keeping their establishments safe, Ron DeSantis decided he cares not about public health, but power," tweeted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

"To be clear, cities like St. Pete, Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Miami Beach saved Florida and the governor's behind throughout this pandemic. Can you imagine if each city had been led by Ron DeSantis? How many lives would have been lost? What would our economy look like today?" Kriseman said in another tweet.

DeSantis Florida Law
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30. Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo