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Some question constitutionality of DeSantis’ tri-state travel quarantines

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on the COVID-19 pandemic from his office in Tallahassee.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on the COVID-19 pandemic from his office in Tallahassee. (WPLG)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Constitutional questions are being raised over whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can order air passengers from virus-afflicted areas to self-quarantine.

If travelers wanted to slip into the state, they could do it at small airports where there is no screening in place.

There are at least 53 daily flights scheduled from Atlanta to smaller regional airports such as Gainesvilles, Tallahassee, Sarasota, Pensacola and Panama City, where passengers fleeing New York and neighboring states could head to Florida and avoid being ordered to self-quarantine.

The governor isn’t thrilled about anyone from that area coming into Florida at all.

“And if you are somebody who left, you know if you were in New York State, you left when you were told to shelter in place," DeSantis said of the travelers. “You defied that and you got on a plane and came here. And so we don’t want there to be any fallout here in the state of Florida from that.”

The governor’s executive order, which is being handed out to air travelers as they arrive at major airports, tells them to isolate themselves for at least two weeks following their arrival. Violators could face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“You can’t get a flight from China to Florida or anywhere in the country, but somehow you can just do 200 flights direct into various parts of Florida from a hot spot that’s much more significant,” DeSantis said.

While there are no Florida National Guardsmen greeting new arrivals in the state capital, it’s almost a moot point. Most flights into Tallahassee have been canceled.

Several civil rights organizations are looking at whether DeSantis’ executive order violates the interstate commerce clause in the Constitution, along with a clause that prohibits discrimination against people from other states.

But a University of Florida law professor who wished to remain anonymous pointed out that by the time any legal challenge to the governor’s edict made it to court, the problem would likely be over.

The isolation order is set to remain in effect until further notice, and constitutional experts also wonder if that indefinite timeline could present a constitutional problem.