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DeSantis to Pardon Business Owners Arrested for Breaking Mask Mandates

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attends an event with then-President Trump in Belleair, Fla., July 31, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will pardon gym owners Thursday who were threatened with up to 120 days of jail time for breaking mask mandates and COVID-19 restrictions at their businesses. He also intends to grant clemency to all other Floridians who defied local coronavirus rules.

During an appearance on Fox News Wednesday night with a couple who were arrested for not enforcing mask-wearing at their gyms, DeSantis stated that he would sign a reprieve for the business owners.

DeSantis then said that Florida’s clemency board, comprised of the governor and members of his Cabinet, will pardon “any Floridian that may have outstanding infractions for things like masks and social distancing.” The board has the power to issue pardons and cancel fines with the approval of two members.

“It’s a total overreach. These things with health should be advisory, they should not be punitive,” DeSantis added.

At a press briefing Thursday, the governor reiterated his plans to pardon COVID rule-breakers and agreed to “remit” any outstanding penalties levied against Florida residents at the state’s next clemency meeting.

This announcement comes after DeSantis ‘ March executive order, which waived fines on establishments and individuals that disobeyed local coronavirus restrictions.

“Floridians should not be penalized for rejecting the overreach of local authorities through unnecessary mask mandates,” DeSantis tweeted Thursday.

After pursuing a decidedly less restrictive approach than much of the country, Florida finds itself in the middle of the pack for COVID cases and deaths relative to other states.

The Republican governor decision to lift remaining mandates for Florida businesses and prevent them from punishing COVID infractions has received pushback and criticism from Democrats in the state.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in March, “Perhaps it can even be debated that the governor’s inaction to enforce health and safety guidelines likely contributed to the spread of the virus in our state.”

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