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Rep. Anthony Sabatini files lawsuit against Pinellas County over mask mandate

The lawsuit comes after top health official calls for more masks to be worn.

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican lawyer from Howey-in-the-Hills, said his lawsuit against Pinellas County’s face mask ordinance seeks to eliminate the ordinance or reduce the mandate to a recommendation.

In front of about 120 supporters outside the Clearwater Courthouse on Friday morning, Sabatini called the ordinance “unconstitutional.” He filed the lawsuit on behalf of residents Zachary Damato and Lucy Turek.

“It’s illegal,” Sabatini said. “It’s absolutely just horrible policy.”

As Sabatini criticized the “career politicians” on the seven-member commission, supporters shouted: “Vote them out.”

Sabatini said the county overstepped its authority in enacting the measure and taking steps to issue fines to violators who refuse to wear masks.

“It’s the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life,” he said about the ordinance.

State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican lawyer from Howey-in-the-Hills, said Friday he was filing a lawsuit against Pinellas County’s face mask ordinance, seeking to eliminate the ordinance or reduce the mandate to a recommendation. He held a press conference outside the county courthouse in Clearwater. [ MARK PUENTE | Times ]

County administrator Barry Burton said the mask ordinance is in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our hospitals and emergency medical system is stressed from extremely high patient numbers, including COVID patients,” Burton said early Friday. “Masks help to slow the spread, along with social distancing. These are simple steps we can all take to help during this pandemic.”

On June 23, six of seven commissioners voted to require people to wear face coverings while in any indoor establishment. The countywide ordinance will be active as long as a local emergency order remains in place.

Related: Pinellas County to require face coverings in businesses

The lawsuit and news conference comes a day after the county’s top public health official said the mask ordinance is crucial to keeping people safe in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, called for even more people to wear masks in public because the data shows that masks help to slow the virus spread.

“The mask ordinance and the closing of the bars has helped,” Choe said Thursday. “We don’t want to continue to strain the hospital system.”

When asked Friday about the comments from the county’s top doctor, Sabatini talked about virus problems in South Florida. He said people can stay quarantined at home if they fear the virus.

“If you believe in safety, stay home,” he said.

The lawmaker would take only one question from the media. He then became surrounded by supporters in flag-draped attire who praised him for several minutes.

Sabatini, a first-term lawmaker, has swept across Florida in an effort to overturn face mask ordinances approved in the Sunshine State. He also has sued Hillsborough County.

Last week, a circuit judge in Leon County rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of a Leon County ordinance that requires people to wear face masks in businesses to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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