- Florida lawmakers are proposing a new bill that would require legislative approval of extended public-health emergencies.
- While GOP legislators praised Governor Ron DeSantis’s pandemic leadership, they expressed concern about how future governors might abuse emergency powers.
- The bill would make it harder for one person to impose lockdowns on homes, schools, offices, and churches.
- Any subsequent renewals of a public-health emergency that lasts for more than 60 days would require two-thirds votes of the Legislature.
Florida lawmakers are proposing a new bill that would require legislative approval of extended public-health emergencies, citing COVID-19 restrictions in other states as the reason behind their move. Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee voted 13-4 in support of the bill (HB 1487), filed by Rep. Joel Rudman, a Republican and licensed physician. The bill comes after a statewide public-health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic that lasted for more than a year in 2020 and 2021.
According to Rudman, the proposed legislation would make it harder for one person to impose lockdowns on homes, schools, offices, and churches, as he had promised his constituents. The bill stipulates that any subsequent renewals of a public-health emergency that lasts for more than 60 days would require two-thirds votes of the Legislature, with each renewal lasting 60 days.
A similar bill in the Florida Senate (SB 1618) has yet to move after it was referred to three different committees in mid-March. However, there is still a month remaining in this year’s legislative session.
Under current law, the state surgeon general can declare statewide public-health emergencies and establish requirements, but such emergencies cannot continue for more than 60 days unless the governor concurs in renewing the emergencies. The proposed bill allows the surgeon general to declare an initial statewide public-health emergency that would last for 60 days and could be extended for 30 days with the concurrence of the governor.
The bill also addresses the surgeon general’s authority by making it clear that the powers do not include ordering vaccinations. Republican lawmakers have pointed to other states like New York and California that imposed more restrictions, and Governor Ron DeSantis has been vocal about preventing lockdowns and mask requirements in Florida.
While some Democrats, including Rep. Kelly Skidmore, have described the bill as an “overreach,” Republican lawmakers argued that it would provide a much-needed check and balance on a governor’s emergency powers. In response to Skidmore’s concerns about protecting citizens’ health, Rep. Robin Bartleman of Weston noted that the bill would tie the hands of those who want to protect Floridians in the event of an essentially lethal situation.