By Jim McCarthy and Mandy Miles
Individuals and businesses in Florida facing fines for violating city- or county-imposed restrictions in the last year won’t need to pay up.
An executive order signed by Gov. Ron Desantis on March 10 canceled fines that were issued between March 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021. DeSantis’ order states that it comes following “unprecedented local government restrictions” on people and local business over the past year.
“I don’t think it’s liberal or conservative. I just think those fines are out of control,” DeSantis said during a recent news conference in Lake City. “Most of the restrictions have not been effective. That’s just the reality. The numbers are on that.”
In June, Monroe County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance requiring masks and other similar face coverings when entering restaurants and other businesses in the Keys. The sunset date for the ordinance is still a few months away, June 1.
The ordinance requires operators and employees of business establishments to ensure customers comply within the establishment. While the facial covering ordinance applies throughout Monroe County, local municipalities have the ability to impose different protective measures.
When the county bolstered the ordinance with fines last July, an executive order by DeSantis on Sept. 25, 2020 suspended the collection of fines associated with COVID-19 restrictions.
Through the county ordinance, businesses that were in violation faced fines up to $500. Code officers were also able to issue an administrative notice of violation with fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for a repeat offense.
Monroe County Code Compliance investigated a number of cases related to violations of the county’s mask ordinance. Most locations that generated complaints were compliant upon investigation, said County Attorney Bob Shillinger. Six cases resulted in imposition of fines totaling $3,000, of which all were collected before DeSantis’ order.
Key West Director of Code Compliance Jim Young said the city had 20 COVID-19 violation notices that were issued to businesses to appear before the code magistrate. Of those, five paid fines for a total of $2,000. Eleven cases have outstanding fines, and four cases had findings of guilt but no fines assessed.
“We are still attempting to verify with the Clerk of Courts the total amount collected for individuals cited,” Young said.
No fines were issued to individuals or businesses in Islamorada or Marathon.
The executive order does not apply to any COVID-19-related orders or enforcement taken by the state. It also does not rescind fines imposed on assisted living facilities, hospitals or health care providers.