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Questions Remain About What Is Essential Following Statewide Stay-At-Home Order

DeSantis declares executive order, confusing how local governments manage 'stay at home' orders
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After mounting pressure, this week Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state of Florida to try to slow the spread of COVID 19. DeSantis resisted issuing the order for weeks and said he’s taking his cues from the White House.

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After issuing the order Wednesday, DeSantis signed another one that appeared to override restrictions put in place by local governments. Some officials around the state have expressed frustration about this, saying Tallahassee is overriding their attempts to protect citizens.

The governor’s office, though, says his second directive is to block local governments from shuttering churches and synagogues during the outbreak. Under DeSantis’ original order, religious services are considered an “essential activity.”

But the definition of essential remains unclear to many in the state. On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross talked to U.S. Representatives Donna Shala (D, FL-27) and Greg Steube (R, FL-17.)

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

Tom Hudson: Do you support the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order that was issued this week?

REP. GREG STEUBE: Yeah, I do. I mean, the moment he did it, the phone my phone started blowing up as to who and what were specifically essential businesses. So, to get some clarity from that, I think would be good. And I think we've got some of those answers for folks in my districts as to some guidance on that. 

Tom Hudson: Tell me, Representative, where did that guidance come from? The governor's executive order talks about essential businesses and references the Department of Homeland Security also references some definitions that Miami-Dade County put into place a couple of weeks ago.

REP. GREG STEUBE: We sent that out on our social media site, and then in our email blast, we're going to stand down today. That's the same guidance we use. We've also reached out to the governor's office to get more clarification as to the enforcement of that. I mean, I have businesses in my district that are construction-related but aren't necessarily construction, like land clearing or some things that could be in gray areas. 

So I reached out to local law enforcement. I represent nine counties. I've reached out to two of them to see exactly how local law enforcement intends to enforce this order, if at all. I should get a call this afternoon from the Sheriffs’ Association — was doing a call today statewide try to have some continuity across the state as to how they're enforcing it.

And Sarasota County, unless they had probable cause to pull a vehicle over, they weren't just randomly going to be pulling vehicles over seeing if they were an essential business or not. I know there were some jurisdictions that were going to be doing that. So, it's really up to local law enforcement who's deemed under that order as to how specifically in each county or city they're going to enforce that order. 

Melissa Ross: When you criticize Governor DeSantis’ order, what do you take issue with? Carve-outs for religious institutions? That's one that's gotten a lot of attention. Do you oppose that? 

REP. DONNA SHALALA: I do. But, so does the leader of the Catholic Church in South Florida and the synagogues in South Florida. And a gathering place is a danger. It's a danger not only to those that gather, but to those that they have in common contact with. And to our health care system. And there ought to be no reason why we ought to increase the burden on individuals or institutions in our society. And the tragedy of the death of that will come from this is, it's just unacceptable. 

Most religious organizations are simply going to close down. The bishops of the Catholic Church in Miami-Dade have already announced that. I noted that most of the synagogues, all the synagogues that I know of, are closed down. And, you know, we have always prayed as individuals. Some of the religious organizations are putting their services on television. We can watch it on the internet. I said Mass last Sunday and followed the Mass that was on my television screens. So, we can do this. But there can't be any exceptions of large groups coming together.

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Denise Royal