With the state task force on reopening Florida halfway through its first week and with the expectation it returns preliminary results by Friday, a sense of urgency and calls for succinct clarity led day three of the executive committee’s brainstorming.
Team leaders Dana Young, VISIT FLORIDA CEO, and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran shared the findings from the two morning breakout meetings. Technical difficulties downed a third working group on agriculture and more chaired by Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson, a farmer and Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ preferred choice over Democrat and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
With the first two days in the rear view mirror and only two more meetings till the Friday deadline, calls for a set of “overriding principles” for the executive committee led off the open mic discussion following Young’s layout of retail, recreation and entertainment interests. Putting safety first and having a data-driven policy that complements federal guidelines and allows for an access to resources made the initial list of principles.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said the state risked a conflicting balance of CDC and OSHA guidelines and efforts to get businesses open. Florida businesses feared opening their doors to customers could also open the door to lawsuits if customers contracted COVID-19 on site. Employees, too, could sue for some type of malpractice without protections for businesses following public health guidances in good faith.
“The pandemic is creating a constantly changing safety environment for employees, operating businesses, grocery stores, delivery companies, restaurants,” Patronis said.
And Broward County Mayor Dale Holness added that local governments could be susceptible to some lawsuits and asked that legislation similar to St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ protections for businesses, currently being drafted up, extend that legal protection to government.
House Speaker José Oliva pressed a sense of urgency with a Friday deadline for suggestions. The outgoing Speaker commanded the meeting and drove calls for the state to present clear safety measures, particularly for small business owners, emphasizing that “time is of the essence,” as business leaders did Tuesday.
“Universal and Disney World and everybody else — God bless them, they’re a major part of our economy — they’re going to work it out,” Oliva said. “But what the very small business owner is looking for is just tell me what I’ve got to do to open my doors.”
Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris backed up that call.
“I think what we need, whether you’re a small business or whether you’re a mid-sized business or a large business, is we need a set of very practical rules of engagement and guidance for every business so we can start getting back up and running,” he said.
And while Corcoran said schools plan to reopen campuses to students in the fall after extending Saturday the Department of Education’s school closure advisory, the Education Commissioner said a “hybrid situation” where some students would still attend remotely would be in place to protect vulnerable family members.