Florida governor to preempt local restaurant pandemic rules and wants a student ‘bill of rights’

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be angling for the eat, drink and be merry vote with Thursday announcements that the state will preempt local governments from imposing pandemic restrictions on restaurants and he will propose a bill of rights for college students to party.

“I understand universities are trying to do the right thing,” DeSantis said during a two-hour Tallahassee roundtable, referencing crackdowns on social gatherings at universities where COVID-19 infections are spiking since campuses reopened last month. “But I personally think it’s dramatically draconian that a student could get potentially expelled for going to a party. That’s what college kids do, and they’re at low-risk, and I just think we’ve got to be reasonable about this and really focus on where the most significant risk is.”

Among notable incidents, 11 Florida State University students were arrested and suspended after attending a party without face masks in August.

DeSantis, however, praised state universities for not going “overboard.”

“I will give our universities credit. They have not gone way overboard the way some of these others throughout the rest of the country” have, he said. “I mean some of these stories are just absolutely horrible. And just if I were a parent, you know, to have a student treated the way some of those colleges in other parts of the country have treated them, I would be none too happy on that.”

The governor did not detail what his student bill of rights would include during the roundtable, most of which discussed restaurants.

Under current measures, restaurant interior dining rooms can open at 50 percent capacity and outdoor seating is unrestricted, but DeSantis has been hinting those restrictions soon will be relaxed.

DeSantis did so again Thursday and added the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) will preempt local governments from imposing more strict regulations.

“We license the restaurants, so it’s a DBPR thing,” DeSantis said. “We believe we would be able to ensure, based on our licensure ability, their ability to operate. They’re not going to be able to be closed by locals anymore, and they will be able to operate at the capacity they’re comfortable with.”

The governor said the state’s 41,000 eating and drinking establishments, which employ more than 1 million people and generated $50.1 billion in sales in 2018, “need certainty.”

His preemption announcement will do just that, he said.

“There’s this uncertainty about, ‘OK what may come down the corner?’ because it isn’t like these restrictions are in front of the Legislature,” DeSantis said. “A lot of them are unilateral decisions that can be made at the drop of the hat, so I think we need to let people know from that perspective that you’re going to be able to operate, you’re going to be able to do it.”

The roundtable included comments from Stanford University structural biology professor Michael Levitt, Stanford University professor of medicine and economics Jay Bhattacharya and Harvard Medical School’s Michael Killduff.

All three supported DeSantis’ claims that eliminating restrictions on business operations and reopening public schools and universities would not dramatically increase COVID-19 infections.

DeSantis said places where local governments, such as in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, have imposed tighter restrictions than the state have seen no difference in infections.

“I don’t think that the closure of restaurants has proven to be effective,” he said.

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