Florida’s state clemency board Wednesday formally pardoned remaining coronavirus-related penalties lodged against individuals and business owners, with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) expressing the need to focus on “the real criminals.”
“Just understand, if you’re in good shape, you’re going to handle COVID 99.99 percent of the time. And so they are telling you to close people’s gyms, have them eat take-out and watch Netflix all day. That’s not good for health,” DeSantis said Wednesday, adding that “one of the best things you can do for COVID is to be in good health.”
Democrat gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who sits on the Board of Executive Clemency and stands as one of the governor’s most vocal critics, expressed opposition to the pardon, defending local governments and claiming that they “stepped up to protect the people of our state.”
It remains unclear how imposing fines on struggling business owners helped “protect the people” of Florida. DeSantis has described Fried as a virtue-signaling “lockdown lobbyist” in the past.
The governor, however, said the action — pardoning these individuals and businesses — is “necessary so that we can recover, have a good transition to normal operations, and also just a recognition that a lot of this stuff was way, way overboard.”
Business owners Mike and Jillian Carnevale, who own the Fitness1440 gym in Plantation, appeared at Wednesday’s meeting to thank DeSantis. They “were arrested a number of times last summer for refusing to enforce a Broward County mask mandate at their facility,” as CBS Miami reported.
“I’m here today to say health and wellness has always been one of our foundational responsibilities to ourselves. It has never been the role of government to be legally and lawfully enforcing and dictating health and wellness,” Mike Carnevale said, expressing his gratitude.
“They were actually pending criminal prosecution in a court,” DeSantis said. “Imagine, we see all these criminal activities that are actually going on that we need to be stronger on and yet we are wasting time on someone who is owning a gym.”
“Let’s focus on the real criminals, and let’s make sure that is where our effort is,” the governor said.
However, Fried was proud of her opposition and accused DeSantis of “actively encouraging people to break the law.”
“I voted today to uphold our laws, while our so-called pro-law enforcement governor is actively encouraging people to break the law with politically motivated stunts like this,” she said in a statement.
“We have laws for a reason,” Fried continued. “We may not agree with all of them, but we are obligated to follow them as a price of a civil society.”
The action follows DeSantis’s March executive order, canceling coronavirus-related fines imposed by local governments throughout the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
“I hereby remit and fines imposed between March 1, 2020, and March 10, 2021 by any political subdivision of Florida related to local government COVID-19 restrictions,” the order stated.
DeSantis noted that the restrictions “have not been effective.”
“That’s just the reality,” he said at the time.