Our state and federal lobbying teams continue to closely monitor developments associated with the COVID-19 virus. Please reach out to us with any questions regarding the information presented below.
On April 2, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order #2020-94:
- Suspending and tolling any statute providing for a mortgage foreclosure cause of action under Florida law; and
- Suspending and tolling any statute providing for an eviction cause of action under Florida law solely as it relates to non-payment of rent by residential tenants due to the COVID-19 emergency.
The Order remains in effect for 45 days.
Also on April 2, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order #2020-93, directing all executive agency heads, in consultation with the Department of Management Services, to identify and deploy executive agency personnel to assist the Department of Economic Opportunity with their reemployment assistance efforts, including call center operations and other citizen services. All assigned personnel will be expected to cease their current governmental responsibilities and fully devote their services to the DEO program. The Order also requires DEO to expand its capability to receive applications for reemployment services in conjunction with CareerSource Florida and a third-party company. Finally, the Order has a provision that authorizes emergency procurement by DEO of additional capacity, software, technology and/or other resources to assist the agency in its efforts.
On April 1, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order #2020-91, creating a statewide “safer at home” order which is effective from April 3, to April 20. Executive Order #2020-91 provides that senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition should stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19. It also provides that all people in Florida should limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential services. The Order defines “essential services” encompassing the list detailed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure and businesses and activities designated by Executive Order #2020-89 and its attachment which consists of a list propounded by Miami-Dade County in multiple orders. Additional services can be added to the list with the approval of the State Coordinating Officer. The full list can be found on the Division of Emergency Management’s website and the Florida Department of Health’s website. Furthermore, the Order defines “essential activities” as attending religious services, participating in recreational activities consistent with social distancing guidelines, taking care of pets, and caring for or otherwise assisting a loved one or friend. Additional activities can be added to the list with the approval of the State Coordinating Officer. However, essential activities do not include social gatherings in public spaces.
Subsequently issued, Executive Order #2020-92 amends Executive Order #2020-91 to supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19. It remains to be seen how this will affect local orders issued by municipalities in response to COVID-19. Answers to frequently asked questions relating to Executive Order #2020-91 can be found here.
On March 31, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order #2020-90, requiring Broward County and Palm Beach County beaches to remain closed. The Order specifies that Broward County and Palm Beach County Administrators have the ability to enforce, relax, modify, or remove these beach closures pursuant to the limitations set forth in Section 2 of Executive Order #2020-68. The Order remains in effect for the length of Executive Order #2020-52, including any extensions, unless modified pursuant to a subsequent order.
On March 30, Governor DeSantis Executive Order #2020-89, which creates a region-wide stay-at-home order for Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Monroe County, restricting public access to businesses and facilities deemed non-essential pursuant to the guidelines set forth by Miami-Dade County in its Emergency Order 07-20. The Order also provides that county administrators, at their discretion, may permit additional “essential” retail, commercial, or other establishments to remain partially open and that no local authority may restrict or prohibit such “essential” service from functioning. Further, the Order emphasizes that essential service establishments not subject to closure must adhere to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines and maintain reasonable sanitation and cleanliness measures. The counties also may not institute curfews pertaining to transit to or from the essential service establishments.
Also issued on March 30, Executive Order #2020-88 allows recently retired law enforcement and healthcare personnel to immediately return to the workforce in order to assist with the COVID-19 emergency response. The Order is applicable to those who have retired since October 1, 2019 or who may retire prior to or on August 1, 2020, under a state-administered retirement system, and is limited to the following categories of employees:
- Law enforcement officers,
- First responders, emergency management and public safety personnel,
- Health and medical professionals, and
- Other critical COVID-19 response personnel as identified and determined by a state agency head.
The Order also suspends any other statute or regulation limiting such re-employment and provides several restrictions.
Prior Executive Orders issued by Governor DeSantis in response to COVID-19:
- Executive Order #2020-87 regarding vacation rental closures (March 27)
- Executive Order #2020-86 regarding additional requirements of certain individuals traveling to Florida (March 27)
- Executive Order #2020-85 regarding telehealth and immunizations for state group insurance (March 26)
- Executive Order #2020-83 regarding protective measures for vulnerable populations, gatherings of private citizens, and density of workforce (March 24)
- Executive Order #2020-82 regarding isolation of individuals traveling to Florida (March 24)
- Executive Order #2020-80 regarding airport screening and isolation (March 23)
- Executive Order #2020-72 regarding non-essential elective medical procedures (March 20)
- Executive Order #2020-71 regarding Alcohol Sales, Restaurants, and Gyms (March 20)
- Executive Order #2020-70 regarding Broward and Palm Beach County Closures (March 20)
- Executive Order #2020-69 regarding local government public meetings (March 20)
- Executive Order #2020-68 regarding bars, beaches, and restaurants (March 17)
- Executive Order #2020-52 declaring a state of emergency (March 9)
- Executive Order #2020-51 declaring a state public health emergency (March 1)
Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program can assist small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The bridge loan program, managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, provides short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses experiencing an economic injury from COVID-19. The application period runs through May 8, 2020. Access the application and learn more here.
Disaster Loan Assistance
Disaster Loan Assistance is now available through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). SBA provides low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes as well as private non-profit organizations. You may access the application here. At the urging of Governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Rick Scott, President Trump issued a major disaster declaration for Florida on March 25. The action provides federal funding for “State, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures.” It also provides funding for crisis counseling for Floridians affected by COVID-19.
Following the recent extension of federal social distancing guidelines, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran recommends that all Florida public and private K-12 schools extend campus closures through May 1, 2020. Furthermore, Florida Virtual School announced earlier this week that free digital courses will be provided to all schools through the end of the school year. The Florida Department of Education has launched an emergency response page which provides free resources to assist parents with educational instruction and providing meals during the distance learning period. All K-12 required testing and grading in Florida are canceled for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Grades will not be calculated, and parents will be able to choose if they wish to hold their children in the same grade for the 2021 school year. For high school students, Advanced Placement (AP) exams will be administered online in a shortened format. The College Board is providing AP students with access to free review lessons to prepare for the exams. Information and resources for schools and school personnel can be found here.
Florida’s colleges and universities have moved to online, remote instruction for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. Traditional commencement ceremonies have been canceled, and each college or university is required to develop an alternate schedule or method of delivery. Some institutions have made the decision to shift to online learning for at least part of Summer 2020. Updates on higher education can be found here and here.
- Several county and city governments have issued various forms of stay-at-home orders, curfews, and business, beach, or park closures. Some areas have declined to issue detailed local restrictions because they believe the statewide guidelines and directives are sufficient. Localities that have orders currently in effect include Alachua County, Bay County, Broward County, Charlotte County, Clay County, Duval County, Escambia County, Franklin County, Gadsden County, Gulf County, Hernando County, Hillsborough County, Leon County, Manatee County, Martin County, Miami-Dade County, Monroe County, Okaloosa County, Orange County, Osceola County, Palm Beach County, Pinellas County, Sarasota County, Santa Rosa County, Sumter County, St. Lucie County, Walton County, Aventura, Bal Harbour Village, Boca Raton, Cape Coral, Coconut Creek, Cooper City, Coral Gables, Dania Beach, Delray Beach, Doral, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers Beach, Gainesville, Golden Beach, Hallandale Beach, Homestead, Jacksonville, Key Biscayne, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, Miramar, Naples, Oakland Park, Orlando, Palm Beach, Palm Coast, Panama City, Parkland, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, Pompano Beach, Punta Gorda, Saint Augustine, Sarasota, Sebring, Surfside, Sweetwater, Tallahassee, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Weston, and Wilton Manors. A running list of local orders can be found here. For more information on Florida’s beach closures, click here.
- It remains to be seen what effect Governor DeSantis’ recent executive orders will have on restrictions enacted by local governments in response to COVID-19. The plain text of the orders suggest that local governments are unable to enact restrictions stricter than allowed by the orders. However, at a press conference on Thursday, Governor DeSantis maintained the his Executive Orders established a baseline for what services may be deemed essential.
- Local governments are especially concerned about what the Governor’s orders mean for large church gatherings that have continued to meet despite national and state social distancing guidelines. Earlier this week, a Brandon pastor was arrested for hosting a service with hundreds of parishioners in violation of Hillsborough County’s safer at home order.
- Effective April 7, face masks will be mandatory for employees and customers at grocery stores pursuant to an order issued by the City of Miami Beach. The order also requires people providing delivery services to wear a covering over their nose and mouth while making deliveries. It specifies that medical or surgical face masks should be reserved for health care personnel and first responders.
Federal COVID-19 Resources
Almost every federal agency has created a dedicated page for COVID-19-related resources. The federal government’s hub site is www.coronavirus.gov, which provides medical information and links to resources for households, individuals, small and large businesses, healthcare workers and more.
IRS Guidance for Tax Credit Eligibility for Sick Leave and Family Leave
This week the IRS published answers to frequently asked questions about the tax credits created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for small and midsize businesses that offer paid sick and family leave to their employees for reasons related to COVID-19. FFCRA offers refundable tax credits to reimburse these businesses for paid leave, and to reimburse self-employed entrepreneurs in some cases as well.
Resources for Small and Midsize Businesses
The Small Business Administration is administering four separate relief programs for small and midsize businesses:
- The Paycheck Protection Program, which offers up to eight weeks of forgivable loans for businesses that retain their employees; complete information about the PPP is also on Treasury’s website, along with the interim final rule implementing the program. The SBA has said that it will not use the CARES Act’s 500-employee limit to determine qualification for the PPP, but instead will use its own current definition of “small business.”
- The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Emergency Advance, which provides up to $10,000 for businesses with less than 500 employees, including sole proprietors, independent contractors, and the self-employed
- SBA Express Bridge Loans, which offer small businesses that have existing relationships with SBA Express Lenders quick access to up to $25,000 in additional credit
- SBA Debt Relief, through which the SBA automatically pays the principal, interest, and fees of current 7(a), 504, and microloans for six months, and will automatically pay the principle, interest, and fees of new 7(a), 504, and microloans made between now and September 27
Relief for FHA Borrowers and Mortgagees
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has published guidance on a range of relief options for homeowners with FHA-guaranteed mortgages and for senior citizens with home equity conversion (“reverse”) mortgages. As required by the CARES Act, these include an initial forbearance period of six months for FHA mortgages, with up to six months of extensions available. HUD’s Mortgagee Letter provides guidance to lenders on evaluating borrowers for eligibility for the COVID-19 National Emergency Standalone Claim, and clarifies that borrowers granted forbearance for reasons related to COVID-19 should not be flagged as delinquent to credit reporting agencies.
Financial Regulators Offer Additional Regulatory Relief
- The Federal Reserve Board announced on Wednesday that it will temporarily exclude US Treasury securities and deposits at Federal Reserve Banks from supplemental leverage ratio calculations for holding companies, from now through March 21, 2021.
- The Federal Reserve’s new revised control framework rule for holding companies, scheduled to take effect on April 1, will not take effect until September 30.
- The federal banking agencies clarified regulatory capital requirements in the light of the agencies’ interim rule allowing institutions to postpone estimating the effect of FASB’s current expected credit loss (CECL) methodology and the CARES Act’s temporary relief from CECL compliance.
- The Federal Reserve Board, the CFTC, the FDIC, the OCC, and the SEC have postponed the comment deadline for proposed Volcker Rule revisions to May 1.
- The SEC has postponed the comment deadline for all open regulatory proposals to at least May 1, but announced that it will enforce Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS requirements starting June 30 as scheduled.
- The FDIC has extended the comment period for its proposed rule on brokered deposits to June 9.
COVID-19 Task Force
GrayRobinson launched a COVID-19 Task Force aimed at helping businesses and local governments address evolving legal and regulatory challenges and emerge stronger from the pandemic.