Gov. DeSantis doubles down on clemency for COVID ordinance violations

Gov. Ron DeSantis, with a group at the Florida Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. Many people were not wearing face masks. Credit: Lucy Morgan Facebook.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has interceded again to block criminal sanctions for people who violated local social-distancing and mask mandates intended to contain COVID-19, and promised to seek a “statewide, categorical grant of a full pardon” to all offenders next month.

The governor signed an executive order to that effect Thursday evening. In March, he signed a similar order quashing fines imposed on safety mandate scofflaws since March 2020.

He and the Cabinet are scheduled to meet as the State Board of Executive Clemency on June 16. DeSantis would need OKs from two Cabinet members to get his way, but Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — Republicans, like the governor — have been reliable votes for him in that forum.

DeSantis himself never issued any statewide mask mandate, although he did briefly order nonessential businesses to restrict operations early in the pandemic, and he did allow local governments to act within their jurisdictions. He since has argued that such measures were never really necessary.

Thursday’s order grants a “categorical, statewide, 60-day reprieve for any individual or business that has been or could be arrested for, charged with, found guilty of, convicted of, subject to a withhold of adjudication for, subject to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere for, or otherwise subject to a criminal sentence or penalty for all non-violent offenses related to local government COVID-19 restrictions.”

“Such action is necessary to ensure that the state of Florida experiences a rapid and orderly restoration and recovery from the COVID-19 emergency and that systems of justice are fair everywhere in the state in relation to the emergency,” the order says.

It doesn’t apply to sanctions issued by the state or medical facilities, including hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.