By John Haughey | The Center Square
Friday’s federal ruling negating the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention & Control’s (CDC) rules for cruise ships in July should be extended to all modes of transportation immediately, Florida’s two U.S. senators maintain.
Even before U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday shot down the CDC’s sailing order in a “major victory” for Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were lobbying the CDC and U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to remove all mask requirements from airplanes, trains, buses and other mass transit.
Scott last week introduced the Stop Mandating Additional Requirements for Travel (SMART) Act, which would repeal a Jan. 29 order that requires travelers on public transport be masked.
On June 10, the CDC announced that order was being amended. In the interim, the agency “will exercise its enforcement discretion regarding certain aspects of the order to not require people wear masks while outdoors on conveyances or while outdoors on the premises of transportation hubs.”
But Scott maintains the CDC and TSA should just do away with the whole raft of COVID-19 rules immediately.
“Just like the federal government should not be in the business of requiring Americans to turn over their vaccination records, it should not be mandating that people wear masks on public transportation,” he said. “I know Americans will do the right things to stay safe, and I hope my colleagues join me in passing this important bill.”
Scott said his bill would prevent the TSA from asking airline passengers about vaccination status, but he does not object to private companies asking for vaccination status.
Although Scott and Rubio say Florida’s $8.1 billion cruise industry, idled since last March, should be able to resume operations immediately – and neither have criticized DeSantis for challenging CDC cruise ship rules – both question a newly-adopted law that bans private businesses from asking workers or patrons show proof of vaccination or “vaccine passports.”
“Government’s job is not to tell everybody every decision they can make,” Rubio told reporters last week.
During their session, lawmakers adopted Senate Bill 2006, which fines businesses or institutions up to $5,000 per violation if they require vaccine documentation and limits local emergency powers no more than 30 days.
The CDC’s April conditional-sail order update requires 95% of cruise ship passengers and 98% of crew be vaccinated and ships undergo 60-90 days of preparation and test-sailing before resuming full operations.
The order – supported by the cruise industry because a vast majority of customers want assurances crew and passengers are vaccinated – ran afoul of SB 2006, prompting the state to sue the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).
On May 12, state and federal attorneys argued before Merryday in Tampa. A week-long mediation effort collapsed after an 11-hour session on May 27. On Friday, Merryday issued a 124-page decision upholding the state’s argument.
“CDC cites no historical precedent in which the federal government detained a fleet of vessels for more than a year and imposed comprehensive and impossibly detailed ‘technical guidelines’ before again permitting a vessel to sail,” Merryday wrote. “That is, CDC cites no historical precedent for, in effect, closing an entire industry.”
The CDC’s order, which Merryday said “exceed(s) the authority delegated to CDC,” remains in place but will be non-binding beginning July 18.
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