Florida appeals court refuses to settle mask mandate issue

A divided state appeals court has refused to reconsider a decision that raised questions about the constitutionality of a move last year by Alachua County to require people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision Friday, refused a request by Alachua County for a rehearing. The court did not explain its reasons.

The decision came about a month after the same panel overturned a May 2020 ruling by Circuit Judge Donna Keim that allowed Alachua County to keep in place the mask requirement. Justin Green, who operates a nursery business, challenged the mask requirement and went to the Tallahassee-based appeals court after Keim refused to grant a temporary injunction. In a 2-1 ruling June 11, the appellate panel said Keim did not properly consider Green’s privacy rights. The majority stopped short of declaring the Alachua County requirement unconstitutional but sent the case back to the lower court.

In seeking a rehearing at the appeals court, Alachua County argued that the case was moot because Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring issued an executive order that blocked local governments from requiring masks. Also, the Legislature passed a measure (SB 2006) that places sharp restrictions on local emergency orders.

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