By Douglas Hanks
The Miami Herald
Oct. 17–A court victory by the Tootsies strip club killed Miami-Dade’s curfew for the nightlife industry, but county lawyers asked an appeals court to revive the measure before midnight Saturday.
Miami and Miami Beach announced Saturday that local police wouldn’t enforce the curfew after a Friday Circuit Court ruling by Judge Beatrice Butchko that the county’s four-month-old curfew order conflicts with a Sept. 25 decree by Gov. Ron DeSantis restriction local COVID rules.
In the meantime, the mayor of Miami said Saturday that his city will no longer enforce the curfew until it’s clear the countywide order is still legal.
In a filing with the Third District Court of Appeal, county lawyers confirmed the Butchko injunction had left Miami-Dade unable to enforce the midnight curfew on its main target: the nightlife scene.
Saturday evening, Miami-Dade announced that until the appeal is resolved county police would not enforce the curfew.
“As of right now, the County cannot enforce the curfew at businesses until resolution of the appeal. From a practical matter, the curfew is unenforceable until the appeal is settled by the courts,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wrote in the statement. “However, we can and will continue to enforce the County’s orders on facial coverings, distancing and important rules governing public health protocols for businesses.”
Circuit Court ruling stops Miami-Dade curfew for now
“The injunction allows any establishment with a license to serve food — which includes restaurants, bars, adult entertainment venues, and nightclubs — the ability to serve food and alcohol to patrons into extended late night hours,” read the request for an expedited decision from appeals court by David Murray, the assistant county attorney who has been drafting emergency orders signed by Gimenez.
A ruling from the appeals court could come at any time, and a decision in the county’s favor Saturday would put the curfew back in place before midnight. Otherwise, Miami-Dade’s nightlife scene will be allowed to legally resume overnight operations into Sunday.
Murray’s wording was the first public confirmation from Miami-Dade that Butchko’s afternoon decision from Friday had invalidated the curfew for the county’s hospitality industry.
Tootsies sued Miami-Dade to overturn the curfew, citing conflicts with the DeSantis decree and flaws in the logic of closing businesses overnight to fight a virus.
Butchko’s ruling focused on wording in the DeSantis order barring local governments from issuing COVID restrictions that cut a food establishment’s capacity below 50%. She also cited DeSantis language barring counties and cities from issuing COVID orders that would rob people of employment.
She stated that Miami-Dade was banned from enforcing the restaurant portion of the updated Gimenez curfew order, which was issued Sept. 26 to try and comply with the new DeSantis rules. That portion requires restaurants and bars to stop serving once the countywide curfew begins.
“The Miami-Dade curfew orders conflict with [the Desantis order] because they prohibit Tootsies from operating; they prohibit employees and contractors from working and they reduce capacity to zero for the entire time subject to the curfew,” Butchko wrote.
Before word came from Gimenez’s office on the ruling’s impact, the cities with a large share of of MIami-Dade’s restaurants and bars said they would stop enforcing the curfew.
“We’re not going to be enforcing the curfew tonight,” Mayor Francis Suarez said Saturday morning, a day after a Miami-Dade judge issued an order allowing Tootsies to stay open past midnight in Miami Gardens. “In order to not create confusion, we’re not going to enforce the curfew until there is clarity.”
The Butchko ruling is the latest weakening of Miami-Dade COVID measures from the DeSantis order. It also barred Miami-Dade from collecting civil fines for people issued tickets for following the county’s mask mandate, and forced Miami-Dade to reopen the bars and nightclubs that had been closed since March.
In his filing, Murray said suspending the curfew for the county’s nightlife industry risks a public health emergency. On Saturday, Florida’s Health Department announced more than 4,000 new COVID cases statewide, the highest one-day total since August.
“As a result of the temporary injunction…people will once again be able to sit indoors, for hours, late at night, maskless, drinking and yelling at each other in an enclosed space while they — and the rest of our community — rely on a wish and a prayer that those revelers will not carry COVID-19 home with them and start new chains of infection amongst their families,” Murray wrote.
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