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DeSantis, AG Moody announce federal lawsuit over travel mask mandates

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was joined by state Attorney General Ashley Moody in Tallahassee on Tuesday to announce a new lawsuit against the federal government over mask mandates for public transportation.

DeSantis announced the lawsuit as another pushback on what he calls COVID theater.

“If you look at what’s going on around the country, in Florida we’ve been very clear that we want people to make their own decisions, we don’t believe in COVID theater,” the governor said. “Though you do see lingering elements of that even the most restrictive states are starting to repeal vaccine passports and some of these mandates. You still have this federal rule that was just extended forcing people to wear masks on airplanes.”

He said the policy is not based on science, due to the rule focusing on allowing people to take their masks off to “nibble” on snacks, but not allowing someone just reading a magazine to go maskless. DeSantis said the fact that the policy is also different depending on if you’re sitting in a window seat or middle seat is also an issue. DeSantis said he was concerned about airline employees effectively having to police passengers on masks, unnecessarily.

“It’s turned the airlines into having to police this, it’s created a lot of unruly passenger situations because it’s so frustrating for people and so this is something that I’ve been opposed to for a long time,” DeSantis said.

The unruly passenger issue has been a problem for over a year, with the Federal Aviation Administration reporting an increase in 2020 and even more in 2021. DeSantis said the increase is largely thanks to the frustration caused by mask policies on airplanes from the federal government’s rules.

“I think most people thought this was going to go the way of the buffalo, first you have an extension, then you have Fauci coming out saying they may need to impose additional restrictions in the future and we need to let people live their life,” DeSantis said. “Obviously in Florida where we have control, we do that, but in this federal mandate for air travel, I think as good as we’ve done in domestic tourism, and we’re the number one state that people want to come to, I think more people would want to fly if they did not have to have that for two hours, two and a half hours.”

He said Moody would be “leading the effort. She’s leading the effort to bring a legal challenge on this. I think it’s important of itself, but I also think there’s an important legal principal at stake, so I support her efforts on this.”

The policy the litigation is based on is a recently renewed U.S. Department of Transportation ruling for wearing masks on airplanes. Recently, DeSantis called the rule a “farce.” The policy itself is expected to expire by April 18, with the lawsuit announced today to begin just over two weeks before the mandate itself ends.

The AG elaborated on the state’s efforts, saying Florida was not alone in its latest litigation effort.

“This morning the State of Florida, joined by 20 other states, has filed an action against the Biden administration and multiple parties within to challenge the mandatory mask mandate in transportation hubs and on airplanes,” Moody said. “This rule, this order is completely outside the bounds of the scope of federal power, as we have argued successfully in numerous other cases. The CDC and the federal government and Biden administration never had the power to issue this order originally, and now we are seeing that almost 75% of these unruly, sometimes violent incidents are based on this unlawful mask mandate.”

Moody also weighed in on the unruly passenger rules, particularly the liability concerns for those taken off airplanes. She said people were taking their frustrations out on employees of airlines, but it was due to what she called an unlawful and unfounded rule and order by the U.S. government.

“Many people don’t realize that this unlawful order carries not just civil penalties, but criminal penalties. Although in the same order they mandated folks, unfounded, unnecessarily wear masks throughout the United States and transportation hubs and that includes taxis and Ubers and ferries and all of these other transportation methods, not just planes, they also included in it a criminal penalty,” Moody said. “So you can imagine if you are a flight attendant or someone who works within an airport or on a ferry or an Uber driver, you are now charged with enforcing this unreasonable requirement.”

Moody said it’s a repeat of Biden’s “MO” to have rules that they choose to then not enforce fully, making the whole of the process confusing. She said it was not surprising.

“What is not surprising what is within the same mandate, which is unlawful, they say they’re going to issue a civil and criminal penalty but they say ‘oh don’t worry we probably won’t even enforce the criminal penalties,’ which is MO for this administration throughout the nation, which causes so much chaos and confusion when they don’t even enforce their own laws,” Moody said. “This must be lifted, we have a lot of faith in the court that they will agree with our legal analysis, I think the governor would agree that we would hope that this administration take their tough on travel stance to the border, it seems that the protection of the American people takes a backseat to this radical scheme. The Governor and I are so proud to lead states across this nation, 21 in total, to ensure that this administration simply stays within their scope of power and follows the law.”

Previously, DeSantis made comments about the USDOT rules during a series of comments on what he called “COVID theater.” The commentary came on March 18 while he spoke in Okaloosa County.

When the governor came back to the podium after AG Moody, he listed out a series of legal victories for Florida against the federal government. From cruise ships and vaccine passports to stopping the OSHA mandates for vaccination in businesses, DeSantis said the state had worked toward “substantive protections” for Florida’s workers to keep them at work and save them from “vax mandates.”

He also announced an official veto the the legislature’s redistricting map for Florida and announced a coming call for a special legislative session in April to focus on the state’s political maps. The governor said he had officially vetoed the plan submitted to him by legislative leadership, Senate Bill 102.

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