TAMPA (WFLA) – Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly signed a second executive order Wednesday to override any restrictions put in place by local governments to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The order is an amendment to the statewide “safer-at-home” order he also signed on Wednesday. The second order says it “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.”
This would limit stronger orders that have been placed by local Florida governments, such as what Hillsborough County already had in place.
The order says this action was taken “to provide clarity.” State attorney for the 13th district Andrew Warren tells 8 On Your Side it only did the opposite.
“I think the confusion that’s been created is very problematic for our community,” he said.
For example, because DeSantis’s order deemed church an “essential activity” that meant Hillsborough could no longer restrict services of more than ten people.
“I don’t think the government has the authority to close a church,” DeSantis said in a press conference Thursday. “I’m certainly not going to do that.”
Warren blasted the governor’s actions on Twitter, only to be further confused when DeSantis seemingly contradicted his own order during that same Thursday afternoon press conference and indicated that local governments could in fact restrict what the state does not.
“Now he’s usurping local control and forcing us to permit social contact that we don’t want,” he said.
Now, Warren isn’t sure what action the county can legally take when restricting church to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I think that is still unclear,” he said. “Based on what the governor has said versus what’s in the written order.”
One church Hillsborough County will not have to worry about this Sunday is the River at Tampa Bay.
After his arrest for holding packed services last Sunday, Pastor Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne revealed in a livestream that they would not reopen regardless of state or county order until he is “exonerated.”
“Are you going to open the church? Nope church is closed this sunday by order of the sheriff,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Hillsborough County’s eight-member Emergency Policy Group voted unanimously to downgrade the county’s restrictions against church services to “recommendations.”
Many leaders were upset with the governor’s amended order.
Hillsborough County commission chairman Les Miller warned that hospitals “better get ready” when voicing his disappointment during the meeting.
“To open up the churches, where we know that the spread of this disease is being close to someone, and not even addressing the six feet apartment is very disappointing,” he told 8 On Your Side by phone.
Commissioner Pat Kemp also wrote a strongly-worded letter to the governor, asking him to repeal the amended order.
“This is a perilous action and will likely lead to deaths and hospitalizations,” she wrote.
Hillsborough County had been facing a federal lawsuit from a civil liberties group for trying to restrict churches. In response to the county’s action Thursday, we’re told that lawsuit is on hold.
Despite the continued confusion surrounding the statewide order, one thing is very clear: it goes into effect first thing Friday and will be in effect for at least 30 days.
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