CLEARWATER, FL — First, he targeted the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group. Now state Rep. Anthony Sabatini is turning his attention to the Pinellas County Commission, filing a lawsuit against the commission for its countywide mandate calling for residents to wear face masks in indoor public places.
Sabatini, R-Clermont, an attorney by profession, made the announcement during a news conference Friday, calling the mask mandates by the EPG and Pinellas County Commission unconstitutional.
“This mandate is not only illegal, not only is it a violation of Florida privacy laws, due process, equal protection, it’s actually just an absolutely horrible policy,” said Sabatini to a crowd gathered in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater.
“Pinellas County has decided that they know better than the state; they know better than the federal government; they know better than everybody; and they’re going to go ahead and pass an unconstitutional and illegal mandate here in the county," said Sabatini.
He said mask mandates are threatening the livelihood of Floridians during the "biggest economic recession in a decade."
"Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life," he said. "A lot of people want to talk about safety. Let me tell you something. If you believe in safety, stay home.”
Sabatini is not alone. During live virtual broadcasts of Pinellas County Commission and Hillsborough Emergency Police Group meetings, hundreds of residents weighed in to oppose the mask mandate, many along party lines with a majority of Republicans objecting to the mandates.
But both Pinellas commissioners and EPG members said they were swayed by the testimony of emergency room physicians and epidemiologists who said masks are currently the best weapon counties have in the war to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Seetha Lakshmi, an infectious disease specialist at USF College of Medicine and an epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital, said a survey conducted by TGH and USF showed that those who wore masks have a 20 percent positive rate while those who didn't wear masks have a 70 to 80 percent positive rate.
Masks are now recommended by the Florida Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said face masks are not “optional for people who want to protect themselves and people around them."
“It is bizarre that we have turned mask-wearing into something political,” he said. “How could it be that something as basic as a public health action that we have very strong evidence can help seems to attach to people’s political party?"
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said if all Americans were to wear a mask in public, the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. could be brought under control within two months.
Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia mandate masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Florida is not on that list.
Florida's Democratic Congressional Delegation has sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, urging a statewide mask order.
"We’re sounding the alarm for the governor to end this parade of mistakes and issue a mandatory order to all residents that they need to wear masks in public," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, D-Florida, in the letter from the delegation. "The governor must end his ‘nothing to see here’ approach and put public health over political pandering to his base.”
DeSantis said he prefers to let individual counties decide whether to mandate masks but said he isn't opposed to masks. He wears one himself.
"From the beginning of May, we advised if you can't social distance, wear the mask," he said.
Joining Sabatini at Friday's news conference was constitutional scholar KrisAnne Hall, who has been an outspoken opponent to mandatory mask orders on her podcast, The KrisAnne Hall Daily Journal podcast.
"There is a growing trend of state and local governments violating the rights of the people by mandating masks with criminal penalties," she said.
She said the orders are based on misinformation, discrimination and bullying.
"There is absolutely no valid evidence to indicate cloth coverings or masks reduce COVID-19 exposure," she said.
Sabatini and fellow mask opponents point to the fact that coronavirus is increasing in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties despite the fact that mandatory mask orders have been in place for weeks.
JUST FILED a lawsuit against @HillsboroughFL County on behalf of a small business owner for illegally mandating that residents and workers must wear face masks—under the threat of ARREST and 60 days jail. Such a regulation is outside the permissible scope of local government. pic.twitter.com/Xm1aea8bD9
— Rep. Anthony Sabatini (@AnthonySabatini) June 27, 2020
Tampa civil liberties attorney Patrick Leduc has also filed suit against the EPG, but for a different reason. He believes the Emergency Policy Group, which only convenes during times of disaster, has overstepped the bounds of its authority.
“There is a separation of powers problem in the way the Emergency Policy Group has been formed," he said. "Everything they do violates the separation of powers doctrine based on who is a part of the board."
The EPG is made up of the mayors of Temple Terrace, Plant City and Tampa, three county commissioners, the sheriff and the chairwoman of the school board.