TAMPA — Amid an outpouring of criticism over Hillsborough County’s new curfew, Florida Rep. Mike Beltran sent county leaders a letter calling for “detailed and specific guidance” on what to do to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“I am concerned that this measure lacks sufficient guidelines for residents and law enforcement to conform their conduct to the law,” said Beltran, a Lithia Republican, speaking of the new mandatory 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
The measure was enacted Monday by the county’s Emergency Policy Group, on top of its earlier “Safer at Home Order" and a statewide order from Gov. Ron DeSantis that supersedes any local emergency measures.
“The ‘curfew’ order does not do anything to prohibit any conduct during the nighttime that is not already prohibited at all times,” said Beltran, a 35-year-old attorney first elected to the state House in 2018 to represent southeast Hillsborough’s District 57.
“In other words, the ‘curfew’ order, as drafted, either does not clearly inform residents as to their legal obligations, or it does not accomplish anything that is not already accomplished under existing orders.”
Confusion erupted when elected officials on the Emergency Policy Group initially gave conflicting statements about what activities would be allowed under the curfew.
Penalties for violating the curfew are the same as those in place for the safer–at–home order. It’s a second–degree misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $500 or up to 60 days in jail.
Beltran said the new mandate would lead to more congestion during the day at already heavily trafficked locations like grocery stores or jogging trails, resulting in a higher likelihood of residents spreading the coronavirus by proximity.
The curfew passed by a narrow 5-3 vote Monday, and members of the Emergency Policy Group are expected to approve yet another new restriction today — this one requiring face coverings to be worn at all times when out in public.
House parties and other large gatherings are already prohibited under the governor’s order as well as county’s existing “Safer at Home Order,” Beltran said. If the group wanted to stop people from partying during the coronavirus outbreak, it could simply issue an order that specifically prohibits large social gatherings, he said.
“As I see it, anything that is lawful during the day should be lawful during the nighttime,” the letter said. “I hope that the EPG will provide detailed and specific guidance to residents on this and other orders and will carefully consider existing policies and new proposals to ensure that they are not counterproductive to the goal of limiting the spread of coronavirus.”
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The public can watch a captioned live feed of the meeting on the county’s Hillsborough TV cable channels: Spectrum 637 and Frontier 22. The feed can also be viewed online at HCFLGOV.net/newsroom or on the county’s official Facebook page and YouTube channel.
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