TALLAHASSEE — Florida on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit to force the Biden administration to scrap regulations that are blocking the cruise industry from resuming operations.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the lawsuit in Miami, where he sharply criticized federal authorities because they have “mothballed” cruise ships for the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s not reasonable, it’s not rational,” DeSantis said. “We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball an industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data.”
The lawsuit, filed against Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, marks the ongoing escalation between the Biden administration and Republican officials in Florida.
A few weeks ago, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration over immigration policy.
DeSantis, a potential Republican contender for president in 2024, has been a constant critic of Covid-19 lockdowns and has steadily refused to enact a mask mandate for Florida even though other GOP governors approved them.
The CDC first imposed restrictions on the cruise industry during the start of the pandemic citing numerous ships whose passengers or crew became infected with the coronavirus. But restrictions have remained in place even as the United States has vaccinated millions of residents. The CDC has revised its orders, but Florida’s lawsuit maintains that under the current restrictions, cruise lines may be shuttered until November.
At the White House on Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t comment on the lawsuit, but she said the CDC’s guidance on cruises is based on data and medical information.
“We would defer to the CDC on updated guidelines, or the expectation of changing those guidelines,” she said.
Carnival Cruise Line, which operates out of Florida and other U.S. ports, earlier this week threatened to move its ships out of U.S. ports after it canceled all cruises through June 30.
DeSantis chose to announce the lawsuit in Miami because he said the area’s unemployment rate was higher than the rest of the state because of the continued shuttering of the cruise industry.
The governor was joined by U.S. Republican Rep. Carlos Giménez, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, who complained the CDC was unfairly targeting the cruise industry while allowing airlines to operate under Covid-19 protocols.
“It’s time to let these ships sail, it’s time to let these people get back to work,” Giménez said.
Florida’s 21-page lawsuit asks a federal judge to block the CDC from continuing to impose a no-sail order on cruise lines and allow cruises to resume as long as they operate with “reasonable safety protocols.” The lawsuit contends that the CDC has exceeded its authority during the coronavirus pandemic to impose regulations on the cruise industry.
In the past year, the governor used his emergency powers during the pandemic to block local governments from collecting fines related to coronavirus restrictions and to spend billions in federal relief money without getting approval from the Florida Legislature.