Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., on Monday announced he was using his executive powers to suspend all local COVID-19 orders in the state, effective immediately.
DeSantis also signed a bill limiting local governments' ability to shut down businesses and schools during an emergency, WPLG reported. The governor said the bill was "evidence-based."
"I think folks that are saying they need to be policing people at this point — if you're saying that, you really are saying you don't believe in the vaccines," DeSantis said during a press conference at a St. Petersburg restaurant.
"You don't believe in the data, you don't believe in the science. We've embraced the vaccines. We've embraced the science on it."
DeSantis criticized strict restrictions imposed by certain Florida cities, as well as other states' handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
He cited an outdoor mask mandate in Brookline, Mass., and Washington, D.C.'s ban on dancing at weddings as examples of an overly extreme restriction.
"They're literally going to have law enforcement there, policing peoples' weddings to say 'You can't dance' when this kind of a day you've been looking for? It's insane," DeSantis said.
On Sunday, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser appeared to have backtracked on loosening mask restrictions for fully vaccinated adults, less than 24 hours after issuing an order that dropped most mask requirements for people fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
"I think there have been two very harmful things that have been done recently in terms of increasing vaccine hesitancy," DeSantis said. "The first was how the FDA and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] handled the Johnson & Johnson [vaccine pause].
"And I think the other thing, quite frankly, when you have people, particularly in Washington saying, 'Yeah, get vaccinated but then make sure you to continue to social distance and wear your mask all the time.' The message that that sends to people is that the vaccines don't work."
During his announcement, DeSantis said COVID-19-related fines will be set aside for individuals and businesses.
The new law, which goes into effect July 1, will allow the Florida Legislature to overturn a governor's executive order if it is deemed to infringe on an individual's rights and liberties.
DeSantis said previous emergency orders during the pandemic order intended to do three main things: keep schools open, move money in case it was needed for vaccine response, and make the state can have vaccine passports.
The governor said that during any emergency, businesses should be free of a government mandate to close, and schools should remain open for in-person learning for children.
"That actually was the pre-COVID pandemic playbook," DeSantis said. "No one advocated a year long restriction or lockdown on businesses or schools like we've sen in these other states."
Florida Democrat lawmakers criticized DeSantis' actions on Monday.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the law, as well as Monday's order, will "handcuff local governments and their ability to respond," the Orlando Sentinel reported.
"The Executive Order he just signed is just so hypocritical to the so-called values of the party of small government," Eskamani said. "It was local governments that led the way in protecting their people and putting into play standards that helped to stop the spread of COVID-19 ... and holding businesses accountable who were not following the best procedures. And it really is so important that every government agency at every level work together to solve these problems, not continue to demonize [local] governments."
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