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Democrats Criticize Banning Local COVID-19 Laws, Vaccination Proof Requirements

Mark Foley via FL House website

Democratic state legislative leaders are speaking out against Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to lift local rules requiring mask-wearing and social distancing and a GOP-backed ban on businesses requiring vaccination proof.

After DeSantis declared local coronavirus-related restrictions "void," House Democratic Party caucus members blasted the decision during a call with reporters.

House Minority Leader Evan Jenne said the move is "probably premature." Cities and counties across the state have enacted mask-wearing requirements, capacity restrictions and curfews to curb the spread of the coronavirus. DeSantis issued an executive order after signing a bill placing further restrictions on local governments' ability to enact pandemic-related policies.

“This is a complete reversal of one of the things that I would actually praise him for. He let places like Dade, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Duval kind of make some of the decisions on their own about how they wanted to handle this," Jenne said. "It really kept not just the amount of cases down, it kept a lot of the deaths from really skyrocketing.”

Florida Department of Health data shows statewide about 36,000 people have died of COVID-19.

Jenne described the Republican-sponsored measure barring businesses from requiring patrons and workers to show vaccination proof as "befuddling." The new law would also prevent schools and local governments from requiring vaccination proof. The new law takes effect July 1.

"Typically the Republican Party of Florida has been a real advocate for not imposing regulations on businesses," Jenne said. "I'm wondering if this isn't part of a larger plan for a potential run at a larger office."

Many have speculated DeSantis is considering a run for president in 2024.

Democratic House Minority Policy Chair Fentrice Driskell called the decision to bar local governments from continuing to implement health and safety rules "the wrong thing to do." She says it could create confusion at the local level and potentially deter businesses from requiring masks indoors.

“I know people view masks as an inconvenience,” Driskell said. “But we know that they’re helping to keep us safe. We know we’ve not yet reached the level of vaccination in our population for us to have herd immunity.”

Copyright 2021 WFSU

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.