Florida lawmaker sues Jacksonville over mask mandate, joins freedom rally at courthouse

Anthony Sabatini, a Republican member of the Florida Legislature, announced Monday morning that he has filed a lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville over the recently implemented mask mandate.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Anthony Sabatini, a Republican member of the Florida House from west of Orlando, announced Monday morning that he is suing the city of Jacksonville over the recently implemented mask mandate. Hours later, he participated in a rally by the group Reopen Florida on the steps of the Duval County Courthouse.

Sabatini on Twitter said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of a small business owner for “unlawfully” mandating through proclamation that anyone in a public space must wear a face mask. Court records show a similar suit was filed Monday against the city of Jacksonville Monday by Mandarin businessman Jason French.

That mandate was issued one week ago by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city and the state continued to skyrocket.

“It’s an absolutely terrible policy. It’s vaguely written, hard to implement and it’s accompanied by this atrocious punishment,” Sabatini said.

Sabatini, an attorney, calls the 60 days in jail and $500 fine for violating the emergency proclamation an atrocious punishment.

The Jacksonville businessman who is also challenging the constitutionality of the proclamation in court, claims it’s hard for him to do his job with a mask on, but added that he is not against wearing them.

“If you want to have a face mask on, that’s fine. You can go ahead and have it. But it should be our option to wear face masks if we so deem,” French said.

Although Curry’s proclamation does not mention any sanctions or enforcement, Sabatini claims violations could result in 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Nikki Kimbleton, spokeswoman for Curry, said the mask mandate “can be enforced that way if violated. But our first step is to educate and warn.”

Sabatini, who represents Lake County, has filed lawsuits across the state in recent weeks in an attempt to overturn face mask mandates. He has similar lawsuits pending in St. Johns, Hillsborough and Orange counties. His first suit is set to go before a judge in Leon County next week.

Sabatini was considered a special guest at a noon rally outside the courthouse. Reopen Florida has held similar rallies opposing masks mandates across the state.

Sabatini urged people on at the rally, telling them that while coronavirus cases are rising: “The death rate is down. Hospitalization is down. All the factors that matter are down.”

His facts are at odds with data coming from the Florida Department of Health which shows the rate of emergency department visits with COVID-like symptoms is more than double what it was a month ago, that July 2 and 3 were the two highest days for new hospitalizations in Florida since the pandemic began, and three of the days with the highest number of deaths reported since the beginning of March have been in the last 10 days.

Some at the rally were not bothered by the rising number of coronavirus cases in Florida.

“We very much feel like we’re being censored with a lot of our freedoms in wearing (that) the mask is kind of a form of a muzzle for us,” Holly Balonis said.

There were people outside the courthouse Monday that held the opposite view.

“Look at the state of Florida and look at Jacksonville,” Craig Fece Sn said. “So why wouldn’t you want to wear a mask?”

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.