Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book is slamming Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ announcement Friday that he’ll ban school mask mandates via executive order.
“The Governor’s continued decision-making through a hyper-partisan political agenda is reckless and duplicitous because when it comes to women having the choice to make decisions about their health care, he blocks it,” Book said via a written statement. “When it comes to businesses having the choice to protect people’s health through proof of vaccination, he blocks it.”
DeSantis had threatened to call a Special Session to ensure students are not forced to wear masks during the upcoming school year, despite a rapidly surging COVID-19 caseload courtesy of the delta variant. DeSantis and his team have cited the low number of children severely impacted by COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, recently reevaluated its stance and recommended schools begin the year with mask mandates in high transmission areas. Health officials worry about the rapid spread of the delta variant, which can jump from students to immunocompromised individuals. The continued spread of COVID-19 also presents a threat the virus can continue to mutate into a more deadly variant.
The Broward County School Board recently announced its mandate would stay in place, while Palm Beach County is considering doing the same. Rather than convincing Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls to move forward with a Special Session, however, DeSantis says he’ll use an executive order to stop those school districts.
DeSantis says his authority to make such a move comes via powers granted under the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which was signed into law after the 2021 Legislative Session.
Book, who took over as Senate Democratic Leader earlier this year, says her caucus is rejecting the move.
“We believe freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility are paramount to our democracy and should always be protected, which is why trusting local governments to make decisions that protect the health care of our children is critical,” Book added in her Friday statement.
“We also believe in science, and the numbers don’t lie: data shows COVID-19 surging in our communities with hospitalizations of younger residents on the rise. With 1 in 5 COVID cases nationwide originating in the state of Florida, we urge the Governor to stop grandstanding and start leading.”
Without a legislative majority, it’s unlikely Democrats will be able to challenge the Governor’s authority during next year’s Session or with a Special Session of their own. Still, Book wasn’t the only South Florida Democrat to take shots at the Governor’s announcement.
“Sooo, I don’t have the right to choose to smoke a cigarette indoors but others have the right to choose to risk my son’s health. Politicizing life and death is not a good look,” said Rep. Mike Grieco on Twitter.
In another post, he added, “I’m glad I was a drama geek in high school … prepared me well for our state’s political theater, all at the cost of preventable Floridians’ deaths.”
Parts of South Florida are seeing its highest COVID-19 case positivity rates since last summer. Hospitals are also feeling an impact, though deaths have not yet risen to last year’s sky-high levels thanks to the vaccines.