Manatee County Commission enacts countywide curfew

Manatee County Commission enacts countywide curfew
Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur explained the curfew request to county commissioners. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

MANATEE COUNTY – On Friday afternoon, Manatee County commissioners voted to enact a temporary countywide curfew that took effect at 11 p.m. Friday night and remains in effect until further notice.

The countywide curfew prohibits non-essential travel – travel that is not for food, medicine, essential supplies or employment – between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. seven days a week.

The commission majority approved the curfew as an additional measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Commissioners Betsy Benac, Reggie Bellamy, Misty Servia, Priscilla Trace and Carol Whitmore supported the curfew.

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Steve Jonsson and opposed the curfew. Baugh and Jonsson said they did not think the curfew was necessary. They felt Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-91 – which took effect Friday morning and pertained to essential and non-essential businesses and services – provided law enforcement with all the enforcement powers they needed.

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells and Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Saur requested the curfew. Mayors and local law enforcement agencies throughout Manatee County also requested the curfew during a previous emergency operations policy group meeting.

What it means

The curfew prohibits non-essential travel – travel that is not for food, medicine, essential supplies and employment – between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. seven days a week.

The curfew was enacted by the commission majority’s adoption of Manatee County Resolution R-20-053.

According to the resolution, “A curfew is hereby established, effective immediately, for all of Manatee County. All pedestrian and vehicular movement, standing and parking, except for:

(a) persons commuting to and from places of employment;

(b) the provision of fire, police, emergency and hospital services;

(c) the transport of medical patients;

(d) utility work;

(e) state and local government employees and officials providing services;

(f) emergency calls by physicians;

(g) food delivery services;

(h) and walking of domestic animals are allowed during curfew hours.”

According to the county resolution, “Social gatherings of 10 or more people that do not constitute essential services or essential activities as those terms are defined in the Governor’s Executive Order 20-91 are prohibited.”

According to the county resolution, “The prohibitions set forth herein shall embrace all publicly owned property, all public spaces and all privately owned property (excepting the interior space of residences) within Manatee County, including all municipalities within the county, excepting the Town of Longboat Key.

According to the resolution, “The restrictions set forth herein shall remain in place until such time as terminated by the Board of County Commissioners or seven days from the effective date of this resolution, whichever is sooner.

“Notwithstanding, the foregoing, the chairperson (or in her absence, any vice-chairperson) of the Board of County Commissioners, after consultation with the Director of Public Safety (or in his absence, the Emergency Management Officer) is empowered to extend the period of the prohibitions declared herein, in seven-day increments, by memorandum,” the resolution says.

Manatee County Commission enacts countywide curfew
County Commission Chairperson Betsy Benac led the discussion and decision making on the proposed curfew. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“Any person violating any provision of this Emergency Resolution is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in Section 252.50, Florida Statutes,” according to the resolution.

Enforcement powers

Late Friday afternoon, Manatee County issued a press release pertaining to curfew.

“Under the supplemental local emergency resolution, Manatee Sheriff’s Office and municipal police department officers now have the ability to issue citations to anyone not in compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order 20-91 & 20-92,” according to the press release.

“Law enforcement will now also have the ability to cite outside group gatherings on private property. Under Florida Statute 252.50, those who violate the State Emergency Management Act are guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor and can be served a notice to appear order,” according to the press release.

During Friday’s meeting, Wells and Saur told the commission the curfew would protect law enforcement officers and first responders who face a critical stretch in April as COVID-19 cases are expected to climb steadily in Manatee County and throughout the state of Florida.

The press release notes the curfew also gives law enforcement agencies the ability to enforce group gathering restrictions on private property, in conjunction with Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-91 & Executive Order 20-92.

Curfew request explained

“We’re at a pivotal point to make a difference and to flatten the curve,” Saur said. “I do believe with a curfew, the public should know they shouldn’t be out on the roadways. The curfew is a time when you should be at home.”

Saur said several EMS staff have already needed to be quarantined because of accidental exposure to COVID-19. He voiced concern that as the virus continues to spread, law enforcement officers and other first responders will become depleted by sickness or quarantine. For that reason, he said additional local restrictions are needed now.

“We are receiving an average of 100 COVID-19 calls a day. Each coronavirus call takes two hours to complete. At night and on weekends, other medical emergencies still occur, like trauma, people having accidents. That still occurs every day and every night,” Saur told the commission.

The county’s press release notes the commissioners were leery of infringing on personal freedoms, but ultimately voted 5-2 to approve the resolution in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to protect first responders.

“I want to make sure everyone’s civil liberties are protected but we could argue that COVID-19 has already led to some restraints on our civil liberties when you think about the travel ban and the quarantine,” Commissioner Misty Servia said.

“The public should realize we take this very seriously but we’re doing the best we can in extremely bad times,” Commissioner Priscilla Trace said.

“Before today’s action, local COVID-19 restrictions were only enforceable on public property such as public beaches and public boat ramps. County and city officials say the public has largely heeded those restrictions, but group gatherings at private residences – such as vacation rental homes, recreation centers and event halls – continue to pose a public health risk,” the press release said.

State-mandated boat ramp and marina restrictions

During Friday’s meeting, Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague also addressed the impact DeSantis’ essential services order, Executive Order 20-91, now has on Florida’s boat ramps and marinas.

Manatee County Commission enacts countywide curfew
Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague explained the impact Governor Ron DeSantis’ essential businesses and services order has on boat ramps and marinas. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

“It’s very difficult to understand how it works because the governor’s order is challenging. There’s Miami-Dade (County) orders attached to it and those orders reference other orders that are not attached to it. Right now, the governor’s order does require privately run boat ramps and marinas to be closed, with the exception for commercially licensed saltwater fishermen. That wasn’t the case until this order was issued, but now they are closed, along with the public boat ramps. It’s very hard to find, you have to dig for it to understand what’s going on,” Clague told the commission.

The governor’s executive order does not prohibit boating or fishing, nor does the county curfew.

City Administrator Cheri Coryea said the two county-owned golf courses would remain open and private golf courses can also remain open. But it was noted that golf course clubhouses and country clubs are not allowed to sell alcohol for consumption on-premises and their restaurants and kitchens are limited to takeout and delivery food service only, as our all Florida restaurants at this time.

Friday’s county commission meeting can be viewed on demand on the county’s YouTube channel.

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