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Apalachicola weighs effect of governor’s order

Apalachicola city commissioners worked to come to terms
Tuesday evening with Gov. Ron DeSantis order Monday to suspend all
local-government coronavirus emergency orders.

The governor 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.
“My message is that the vaccines protect you. Get vaccinated, and then live
your life as if you are protected,” DeSantis said during an event at the Big
Catch at Salt Creek, a St. Petersburg restaurant. “You don’t have to chafe
under restrictions infinitum.”
DeSantis announced an executive order suspending local-government orders about
coronavirus precautions and signed an emergency-management bill (SB 2006)
approved Thursday by the Legislature.
While the executive order won’t block businesses from requiring customers to
socially distance or wear masks, DeSantis said he will call at the next state
clemency board meeting for lifting outstanding COVID-19-related fines that
local governments have imposed on businesses.

“In layman’s terms, what does that mean as far as the
city commission’s responsibility as far as providing protection for the
citizens?” asked Mayor Pro Tem Brenda Ash, who was sitting in for an absent
Kevin Begos.

“The cities can request and encourage, city buildings can
encourage patrons to wear masks and put a protocol in place, but just not an
ordinance or any broad mandate for the community,” said City Attorney Dan
Hartman. “We don’t have the force of law behind us, basically they’re all
suggestions, guidelines. This is brand new, but as of today, my interpretation
is this is not compelling us to do anything. It’s still discretionary.”

Ash said she would like to see each organization that is
using a city-owned building to create a proposal for reopening.

City Manager Travis Wade said that he recently chose to
lease out the Battery Park building for a birthday party, but required the
renters to sign a hold harmless agreement, as is typical with all city-owned

Hartman said he believed that the city retained the right
not to open up buildings for public use. “That’s our right, we don’t have to do
it,” he said.

Responding to a question from City Commissioner Anita
Grove on whether to adopt rules that limit the number of people who can gather
at a meeting, Wade said he did not put one in the birthday party rental
agreement. “But if you want me to adopt a particular number, I will do that,”
he said,

“We might want to consider for the next six months to
have only outdoor events,” Grove said.

“Business as usual is what they’re pushing for,” said
Hartman. “It’s up to us to decide; it’s not all or nothing.”

Leo Bebeau, the city’s finance director, asked whether
every adult at the child’s party would have to sign a hold harmless agreement on
behalf of their child. Hartman and Wade proposed to meet to discuss that and
other relevant issues as to what the city’s policy would be.

Bebeau noted that the governor’s orders do not extend to
private businesses, which continue to be free to implement any rules that they
deem helpful.

“Every business can decide, the state can’t dictate
that,” he said. “As far as what individuals in their place of business do, we
don’t have any jurisdiction over that.”

The Florida Department of Education advised school districts
they won’t be affected by the two executive orders.
The Department of Education said in an email that questions had arisen about
the impacts of the orders on school districts. The department’s guidance noted
the order “only impacts city and county governments, and does NOT impact school
districts and individual schools,” and that it “only (impacts) restrictive
COVID-19 orders/ordinances that are adopted through emergency enactment.”
The department also wrote that neither order will “impact any school district’s
policies for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.”
As many districts continue to require people to wear masks on campus, Education
Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote a letter to school superintendents last
month asking that districts drop mandatory mask policies. Corcoran wrote in the
letter that face coverings “are a personal decision and certainly families and
individuals should maintain their ability to make a decision that is unique to
their circumstances.”
Democrats called DeSantis’ executive order “premature” as deaths in Florida
from COVID-19 continue to average around 60 a day, while saying the so-called
vaccine passport-ban is “strange” as Republicans advocate for business freedom.
The ban prevents businesses, schools and government agencies from requiring
people to show proof of vaccination before gaining entry.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said the executive order is a further
intrusion into local governments, while the passport-ban does the same to
“It’s been an interesting sort of role reversal that we’re seeing with
Republican leadership, where they keep trying to tell businesses and
corporations how to do their job and how to run their business,” Driskell said.
“It’s very strange to me.”
House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said the executive
order will pressure businesses to lift COVID-19 requirements to avoid
Jenne added that one of the bright spots in DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic
was allowing some counties, particularly in Southeast Florida, to make their
own decisions in the early days of the pandemic.
“This is a complete reversal of one of the things that I would actually praise
him for,” Jenne said. “He let places like Dade, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough,
Pinellas, Duval (counties), kind of make some decisions on their own about how
they wanted to handle this. And it really kept not just the amount of cases
down, it kept a lot of the deaths from really skyrocketing, which they of
course eventually did.”
The bill signed Monday by DeSantis will allow the governor to override local
orders during health crises if they are determined to “unnecessarily restrict
individual rights or liberties.”
“We need to put reasonable checks on government at every local level now that
we have seen what can play out when this happens for such an extended period of
time,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said.
DeSantis on April 2 issued an executive order blocking vaccine passports, which
he said would create “huge” privacy issues that could result in people handing
over medical information to a “big corporation.”  The bill makes that
House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach,
said the bill prepares Florida for the next public-health emergency, while the
COVID-19 crisis has provided “a good reminder of the extraordinary power with
which we have vested our governments.”
“Thirteen months ago, we were facing a looming but largely indecipherable
crisis,” Leek said. “We didn’t know what was coming at us. None of us could
have imagined that governments would order shutdowns of your businesses and
force people into isolation into their homes. You couldn’t imagine it. Today,
what the once novel virus was is less so. We have therapeutics that work, we
have vaccinations that save lives.”
DeSantis pointed to about 9 million people being vaccinated in the state.
“You have to ask yourself, if given that type of performance of the vaccine,
given how great the monoclonal antibodies have done, which nobody ever talks about,
but those have done very well, given all that, if that still you need emergency
powers under those circumstances, then when are you going to be able to move
beyond it?” DeSantis continued.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 6.4 million
people in Florida have been fully vaccinated, 29.86 percent of the population,
the 36th-best rate among states.
The state Department of Health reported Monday that nearly 2.6 million people
have received the first doses of a two-dose series.
With DeSantis lifting local government orders, Senate President Wilton Simpson,
R-Trilby, said the state Capitol will be fully reopened for a special session
on gambling during the week of May 17.
“Make no mistake about it, families are still dealing with COVID,” Simpson
said. “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.”
The bill signed by DeSantis will require local emergency orders to be narrowly
tailored and to be extended in seven-day increments for a maximum duration of
42 days. Currently, such orders can be issued initially for seven days and
extended indefinitely in seven-day increments.
Also, state agencies will be required to develop by the end of 2022 public
health emergency plans, and the Division of Emergency Management will have to
stockpile personal protective equipment.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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