The outbreak and rapid spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has significantly impacted the global economy and the operation of local businesses. The outbreak is forcing Florida business owners to confront many hard questions about how they can and should conduct business during this global public health crisis.
I’ve heard there’s a state of emergency. What does that mean?
On March 9, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-52 declaring a State of Emergency as a result of COVID-19. On March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency. On March 16, 2020, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe followed suit. Emergency declarations grant government officials the power to support states and localities when their capacities are overwhelmed by a disaster affecting public health or safety. Emergency declarations also make federal emergency relief funds available.
What are the current restrictions on bars, restaurants, and gyms?
On March 17, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order Number 20-68, requiring that restaurants must only fill to half capacity and that bars and nightclubs must close for 30 days. On March 20, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-71, requiring that all restaurants close their dining rooms and use their kitchens solely for takeout and delivery purposes through May 8. Restaurants and breweries are still permitted to sell packaged alcohol for takeout and delivery with food orders. Additionally, Executive Order 20-71 closed all gymnasiums and fitness centers. The order does not apply to gymnasiums and fitness center which are in hotels or residential buildings.
What is a stay at home order?
As of March 23, 2020, Alachua County has ordered all non-essential businesses to close and residents to stay at home via Emergency Order No. 2020-09. This Stay in Place order will take effect at 12 a.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Essential businesses will remain open and include, but are not limited to:
- Health care providers
- Grocery stores
- Gas stations, auto supply, and auto repair shops
- Hardware, gardening, and building supply stores
- Mailing, shipping, and delivery services
- Restaurants (pick-up only)
- Accounting and legal services
- Hotels and motels
- Veterinarians and boarding facilities
If your business is not considered “essential,” you are required to cease all activities within Alachua County except Minimum Basic Operations.
Can I leave my house?
Yes. Individuals in Alachua County may leave their residence to perform tasks essential to their health and safety, to obtain necessary services or supplies, to engage in outdoor activities, and to take care of others and pets. Individuals may also leave their residence to provide any services or perform any work necessary to offer, provision, operate, maintain, and repair Essential Infrastructure. Essential Infrastructure includes, but is not limited to, food production, construction, building maintenance, and the operation of utilities and electrical systems.
How can my local or state government force my business to close?
States, cities, and counties possess what is often called the “police power” to govern for the health, welfare, and safety of their residents. This authority can be traced back to English common law and is reserved to the states by the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The police power of the states is greater than the limited powers of the federal government. In 1905, the Supreme Court held that “upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” This means that state and local governments can force businesses to shut down, impose curfews, restrict movement, and threaten noncompliance with arrest.
Under Florida law, the Governor is responsible for meeting the dangers presented to the State of Florida and may assume direct operational control over all or any part of the emergency management functions of the state. The Governor may issue executive orders which have the force and effect of law. Fla. Stat. § 252.36(1)(b) (2019). Additionally, each county within Florida has an emergency management agency which performs emergency management functions within the territorial limits of the county. Fla. Stat. § 252.38(1) (2019). Municipalities can also create municipal emergency management programs to carry out emergency management functions.
What happens if I keep my bar, gym, or otherwise non-essential business open anyway?
Since state and local governments have both the constitutional police power and statutory authority under Florida Law, they can dispatch law enforcement agencies to enforce emergency management restrictions. The violation of a state or local restriction on operating can lead to fines or even an arrest. If you are a Florida business owner and are facing current charges, call our experienced criminal defense attorneys at (352) 329-3632.
Don’t I still have rights, even in a pandemic?
Americans possess a number of constitutionally protected rights, and state and local governments must take care to ensure that protective measures are not overly broad. The legal history of the United States is filled with cases where the government had insufficient reasons to justify restrictive measures. While the police power reserved to the states is broad, any exercise of police power must withstand constitutional scrutiny.