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Senate Panel Advances Bill Limiting Local Power On Emergency Orders

 A proposed bill would limit local governments' ability to issue emergency orders during disasters, including wearing masks or restaurant restrictions.
Currently, local states of emergency can be ordered for seven days and extended indefinitely in seven-day increments.

The measure would require mayors to get approval from the governor or Legislature to extend emergency orders beyond 10 days. The rule would apply whether it’s a hurricane or pandemic.

When COVID-19 began spreading across Florida, local governments rushed to enact emergency measures to control the disease including mask orders, business closings and curfews.

Now, proposal being considered by the state Senate would limit the authority of local mayors.

The measure would require mayors to get approval from the governor or Legislature to extend emergency orders beyond 10 days. The rule would apply whether it’s a hurricane or pandemic.

The proposal was approved by the Community Affairs Committee

Currently, local states of emergency can be ordered for seven days and extended indefinitely in seven-day increments.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the bill “clarifies freedom” without stepping on home rule.

“They can’t just go on and on with special orders,” he says. “Eventually, that’s a dictatorship if nobody ever comes back to the legislative bodies.”

Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R- Hialeah Gardens, who introduced the bill, said his proposal is due to the “different iterations” of emergency orders issued during the pandemic “that have gone above and beyond in restricting individual freedoms, rights and an ability to live.”

Critics say local emergency orders are needed to address local conditions, like South Florida’s higher COVID infection rates.

“We elect local government to support our local needs, and they should have the freedom to rule as they need and not be dictated to by a timeline that may not work,” says Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton.

Tonnette Graham, associate director of public policy with the Florida Association of Counties, worries it sets a dangerous precedent.

“Passing this bill might just be the beginning of the ending of home rule,” Graham says.

The bill must still be reviewed by the Military and Veterans Affairs committee and the rules committee.

A similar measure in the House would allow the extensions to go a maximum of 42 days, approved in seven-day extensions.

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.