DeSantis: Cruise ships not immune from Florida's COVID-19 'passport' ban

Gov. Ron DeSantis isn’t wavering from his anti-vaccination "passport" stance as a cruise line has received federal approval to set sail from a Florida port next month, if passengers and crew members are vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Speaking to reporters on Friday, the governor maintained that Florida won’t exempt cruise lines from a new law, which goes into effect July 1, that imposes a fine of $5,000 for each customer asked to provide proof of a coronavirus vaccination. DeSantis said he also expects the state to win its lawsuit challenging federal restrictions that have idled the cruise ship industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We are going to enforce Florida law," DeSantis told reporters Friday at the LifeScience Logistics Distribution Center in Lakeland. "I mean, we have Florida law. We have laws that protect the people and the privacy of our citizens, and we are going to enforce it. In fact, I have no choice but to enforce it." 

DeSantis, who signed the "passport" bill into law on May 3, also said "we provided vaccine for a lot of their workers," referring to the cruise industry. 

"Nobody has fought harder, not just for cruises, but the entire leisure and hospitality sector in this state in its history than me," the Republican governor, who is seeking re-election to his post next year, said Friday. 

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Celebrity Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, has drawn approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and could begin operating out of Port Everglades by the end of June. The approval requires 100 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers to be vaccinated. 

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Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday has given state and federal attorneys until Tuesday to settle Florida’s lawsuit challenging the cruise restrictions. According to court documents, lawyers from both sides held a settlement conference on Thursday and are scheduled to meet again Tuesday.  

DeSantis, a Yale Law School graduate, noted Friday the mediation process is currently underway. 

"You know, maybe there will be a resolution," he said. "My view is, ultimately, we wanted to vindicate the state’s immediate interest with this. But there is a larger point, and I am confident we will win the case." 

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, backed by DeSantis, filed the lawsuit last month challenging the CDC restrictions. The state pointed, in part, to the economic impact on Florida and contended the CDC overstepped its legal authority with the restrictions. 

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have argued the federal government has long had the authority to regulate ships to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and that Florida lacks legal "standing" to pursue the case.