A lot has changed over the past several weeks. However, even during times of distress, it’s important to ensure that those in power adhere to the rule of law. A pandemic is not carte blanche to override established legal or operating procedures. The previously enacted curfew in Hillsborough County is one such governmental overreach—and it was lawyers and regular citizens that raced to the front line to ensure that our liberties were protected.
Hillsborough County Overnight Curfew
In response to hearing that groups were still gathering despite statewide safer at home orders, the Emergency Policy Group voted 5 to 3 to establish a mandatory county-wide curfew as opposed to adopting its own stay at home order.
This curfew went into effect on April 13th across Hillsborough County and required that citizens remain in their homes from 9 PM to 5 AM.
Many area residents were shocked and angered by the order, finding it an arbitrary measure—and then three days later, the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group voted to rescind the order.
Group Faced with Lawsuits and Outrage
As far as we can tell, few were upset that the curfew had been removed. Many believe that the group attempted to act in the best interest of residents, but that it failed by enacting a measure that was too broad-reaching without much evidence that such a measure would help curb the spread of the virus.
So what happened to make the Emergency Policy Group do such an about-face?
In addition to being faced with public outcry, we know that the group was also faced with multiple lawsuits and injunctions, including one in which our law firm was a plaintiff.
This injunction charged that the County Emergency Policy Group did not have the authority to pass the curfew through an executive order and that by doing so, they adversely affected our civil liberties and constitutional rights. Part of the issue at hand was that the public had no opportunity to be heard on this matter since the Emergency Policy Group acted unilaterally and failed to either hold a public hearing or gather information from the public online as required by the Florida Sunshine Laws.
It also challenged the reasoning behind the curfew. There is no reason to believe that somehow the virus spreads more during the hours covered by the curfew. In fact, it may actually be safer for individuals to run or walk after 9 PM. Not only is it cooler, but because there are few people out, they are better able to maintain social distancing.
It stated that the curfew could lead to additional job loss, especially for individuals working in the gig economy to deliver take-out from restaurants or groceries and restaurant owners who had to shutter their doors early. This means that the curfew has created more burdens than it purported to relieve and negatively impacted our local economy.
As plaintiffs in this lawsuit, we also highlighted the fact that there were discrepancies and misunderstandings among EPG members themselves, making it highly unlikely that the curfew could even be implemented in a way that would benefit the community. Instead, the actions of the group and their text alerts caused panic in the community and made residents fearful. The threat of arrest for walking one’s dog is ridiculous, and the manner in which the group members shared information on television and other outlets showcased that they had little idea of what the curfew would entail, how it would be enacted, and what it would mean to the community at large.
It also stated that the group should have waited for additional clarity before attempting to vote or enact such a wide-reaching order. It may or may not surprise many that the order was actually voted on before it was drafted, which makes absolutely no sense. That means group members voted on something without actually knowing what it was and then attempted to execute the order the following day.
Lastly, in the lawsuit, we challenged the constitutionality of the Emergency Policy Group itself. It is our view that the group does not have the constitutional authority to act in the way that it has. We feel there is no oversight of this group and that they have overreached with some of the actions they have taken.
We asked that an injunction be passed to stop the curfew and stated that a failure to enact such an injunction would result in irreparable injury to the plaintiffs in the case, as well as many other Hillsborough County residents. In addition, we stated that the order creating the curfew was unconstitutional because it did not define how those who broke curfew would be punished. In order to have such an order, it must be clear who will be responsible for ensuring the order is adhered to and the process by which individuals who break the order will be punished. This crucial information was missing from the curfew order and lead to much confusion, anxiety, and panic.
Whether you feel that the government has been enacting measures beyond what’s appropriate or that officials are only doing what’s best for the state or county, there were some inherent issues with the curfew order that led to it being struck down.
Members of the working group itself have been quoted saying that they erred in moving too fast to enact the measure.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor suggested that the curfew would have been more tenable had it begun later—at 11 PM instead of 9 PM.
Regardless, we feel we laid out an excellent case as to the group’s overreach and the invalidity of the curfew order.
Mike G Law: Always Vigilant
We understand that citizens will be called upon to make changes to their lives in order to beat this pandemic. Simultaneously, at Mike G Law, we remain committed to ensuring that the proper procedures are followed before life-changing measures are implemented and forced upon our neighbors. If there are further abuses of power or missteps by those in charge, we will again challenge those policies to ensure our freedoms are not restricted arbitrarily.