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Limits On Local Emergency Orders Advance In Florida Senate

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News Service of Florida
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Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills

TALLAHASSEE --- A proposal spurred by the coronavirus pandemic to limit local emergency orders is ready to go to the full Senate, despite lingering concerns from Democrats and local governments.

The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday approved the measure (SB 2006), which is focused on how the state should respond to future pandemics. The committee also added changes included in a separate bill (SB 1924), which in part would require local governing bodies to vote to extend emergency orders after 10 days and would give the governor or the Legislature the power to invalidate the orders.

“This is not an attempt to Monday morning quarterback anyone, whether they're local or at the executive level,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican sponsoring the underlying bill. “This is an attempt to gather our lived and learned experiences and apply them to be better for it in the future. Hopefully, it won't happen in our lifetime, or anyone's lifetime. But unfortunately, history has shown us that it will.”

The bill, in part, would require the governor to justify closing schools and businesses, require a state-owned stockpile of personal protective equipment, establish an emergency response fund and direct the Department of Health to create a comprehensive public response guide for future crises.

The governor would also have to submit budget amendments when redirecting money from general revenue or the Budget Stabilization Fund, which is a state reserve.

Burgess’ bill also added proposals to limit local government emergency orders that are included in the separate measure sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Diaz said the intent is to keep people from being deprived of their “constitutional right of fundamental liberty.”

Many local orders that have drawn Republican ire have centered on mask mandates, businesses operations and curfews.

Diaz’ proposal would allow initial 10-day orders to be extended to 30 days if local boards are unable to meet because of the impacts of hurricanes or other weather-related disasters.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said the Republican-dominated Legislature’s “non-stop assault on home-rule has to end.”

“Imagine if you will there was an area with radioactive water that was leaking into our water table and potentially sickening hundreds, if not thousands of residents. Shouldn’t that local government be able to enter an order protecting its citizens, its residents?” Farmer said. “Aren't they best able to move most quickly in instances like this?”

Scott Dudley, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, expressed concerns that local governments could be unable to reimpose executive orders when they expire.

“If you look at a scenario like Portland, Ore., or Baltimore, Md., last year, months of civil unrest. It seemed to have calmed down at one point,” Dudley said. “So, emergency orders were lifted. If this language were to be enacted. It would prohibit a city, if things were to flare up again, from taking an action, imposing new emergency orders related to that similar incident.”

Diaz said the intent is to keep local governments from letting a 10-day emergency order expire and then reimposing new emergency orders to bypass the need for the full board to vote on the directives.

A similar House (HB 7047) awaits an appearance before the Health & Human Services Committee, its final hurdle before possibly going to the House floor.