What Florida Businesses Need to Know about the COVID-19 Response

Holland & Knight LLP

Business, Industry and Economic Stabilization

Small Business Loans Available

The Florida Small Business Emergency Loan Program, managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, will provide short-term, interest free loans to small business that experienced economic injury from COVID-19. The application period opened on March 17, 2020, and runs through May 8, 2020. The first two emergency bridge loans have been awarded.

On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it will work with state governments to provide targeted, low-interest disaster recovery loans to small businesses severely impacted by the outbreak. The loans may be used to pay fixed debt, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid because of the disaster's impact, usually at the rate of 3.75 percent.

Category B Public Assistance Available.

The state of Florida received an Emergency Declaration (EM-432) because of COVID-19 for Category B (emergency protective measures) under the Public Assistance (PA) program, meaning that hospitals, clinics and emergency providers and various governmental entities may apply for public assistance.

Health and Medical

Emergency Order Suspends Visitation to Health Care Facilities

Pursuant to Gov. Ron DeSantis' Executive Order 20-52, the Florida Department of Emergency Management issued DEM Order No. 20-006, which suspended visitations to group homes, developmental disabilities centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, long-term care hospitals, homes for special services, transitional living facilities, intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled, adult mental health and treatment facilities, adult forensic facilities and adult family-care homes. The order applies to all visitors, unless an exception applies. The order does not apply to the facility's healthcare workers unless the worker is prohibited from entering the facility under the order's remaining criteria. The order expires on May 8, 2020, unless extended.

Non-Emergency Surgeries and Procedures Terminated

On March 20, 2020, the Gov. DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-72 prohibiting "any medically unnecessary, non-urgent, or non-emergency procedure or surgery which, if delayed, does not place a patient's immediate health, safety, or well-being at risk, or will if delayed, not contribute to the worsening of a serious or life-threatening medical condition." In its recitals, the order indicates the purpose, such as the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidance, is to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and control the spread of the virus. An open question is whether certain services are "procedures" and whether they require PPE or could exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.

Telehealth Extended

As the current emergency evolves, the ability to provide healthcare when and where it is needed most will be a critical component of maintaining public health. Telehealth and telemedicine will play a significant role. On March 6, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 6074, Public Law 116-123, that relaxed certain Medicare requirements for delivering healthcare through telemedicine. More information on the federal changes (as of March 20) is available in this Holland & Knight Healthcare Blog post. Department of Health Emergency Order 20-003 provides that, for purposes of responding to COVID-19, healthcare professionals not licensed in Florida may provide healthcare services to a Florida patient, for a period of time not to exceed 30 days unless extended by an order of the State Surgeon General.

Hospitality

Food Establishment Workers Subject to Screening and Limited to To-Go

Executive Order 20-68 required restaurants to begin screening and prohibiting any employee infected with or exposed to COVID-19 from entering restaurants. Executive Order 20-71 suspends on-premises food consumption for customers of Chapter 500- and 509-licensed restaurants and food establishments while allowing them to operate for the purpose of providing delivery or take-out services.

Florida Suspends Alcoholic Beverages Sales On-Site But Allows To-Go Deliveries

Executive Order 20-68 restricted the operations of certain bars, pubs and nightclubs, serving alcoholic beverages solely for consumption on the premises, to suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages for 30 days from March 17, 2020. Executive Order 20-71 suspends the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink or in sealed containers for consumption on the premises at all licensed alcoholic beverage vendor premises, including restaurants. The order permits vendors to sell alcoholic beverages as package sales or in sealed containers for consumption off the premises. The order also allows a specially licensed food service establishment to make package sales of alcoholic beverages under certain conditions, notwithstanding the restrictions in Section 561.20(2)(a)4., Florida Statutes. The order provides authority for licensed alcoholic beverage vendors to request the return of undamaged products purchased for events canceled in response to COVID-19, subject to conditions and recordkeeping requirements specified in the order. The order clarifies that retail stores and vendors that currently sell sealed containers of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption may continue such sales.

Administrative and Judicial Relief

Some Courts/Tribunals Open; Others Closed

Trial and Appellate Courts in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court, in orders issued on March 13, 2020, and March 17, 2020, has suspended all grand jury and jury selection proceedings and jury trials from March 16 through March 27, 2020, and directed the lower courts to continue performing only "essential court proceedings," including those critical to the criminal justice system and public safety. Each state circuit's chief judge must review their dockets and available technology resources to maximize the use of such resources. The circuit court and appellate court responses to these directives have varied. For example, the Florida First District Court of Appeal has issued an order suspending all oral arguments through the end of April, and the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit (based in Monroe County) has issued an order limiting court proceedings only to "mission critical" matters through April 17, 2020. The Florida Supreme Court is collecting individual state court orders on its website. With respect to the federal courts in Florida, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has continued all jury trials, while individual judges have discretion to proceed with hearings, conferences, and bench trials. The Northern District and the Middle District have issued administrative orders closing or significantly limiting public access to the courthouses.

Administrative Tribunals. The Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) issued an order clarifying that the Tallahassee office of DOAH remains open and directing administrative law judges to review their dockets and maximize the use of telephonic or video conferencing. For DOAH hearings scheduled outside of Tallahassee, where telephone or video would be impractical, the hearings are continued until the expiration of Gov. DeSantis' travel prohibition on the state employees. The Offices of the Judges of Compensation Claims — the administrative bodies charged with hearing workers' compensation claims — also remain open, although all mediations must be conducted telephonically through March 27, 2020.

Environmental Protection

Certain Building and Environmental Permits Extended

Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) has confirmed that Executive Order 20-52 qualifies as a "natural emergency", which allows for the tolling of certain permits pursuant to Florida Law. Section 252.363, Florida Statutes, provides for the tolling of valid permits and other authorizations during the declaration of a state of emergency, plus an additional six months. The tolling and extension provisions apply to the expiration of 1) development orders issued by a local government, 2) building permits, 3) Florida Department of Environmental Protection or water management district permits issued pursuant to part IV of Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, and 4) buildout dates for developments of regional impact (DRI), including any extension of a buildout date that was previously granted pursuant to Section 380.06(19)(c), Florida Statutes.

In order to take advantage of the extension option, permit holders must notify the issuing authority of their intent to do so in writing within 90 days of the termination of the emergency declaration. The notice must be in writing and identify the specific permit or other authorization qualifying for extension.

FDACS Extends Time "Winter Blend" Fuel May Be Sold

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has determined that as a result of the COVID-19 global health crisis and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) directive to limit travel, there is an extreme and unusual oversupply of fuel meeting winter season volatility requirements, known as "winter blend" fuel. Accordingly, FDACS issued an emergency rule to allow winter blend fuel to be sold longer, ensuring the adequate and rapid distribution of available fuel and helping to stabilize the fuel market, and providing consumers a stable supply of gasoline.

Education

The Florida Department of Education announced that all public and private K-12 and career and technical center campuses are closed through April 15, 2020. All public state colleges are closed for the spring semester. All district school board and state college board of trustees meetings through June 30, 2020, are postponed. The Florida Commission for Independent Education postponed its meetings.

Energy

Because electric generation and distribution facilities are considered critical infrastructure, and electricity an essential service, most Florida electric utilities and other energy companies are taking steps to have key staff personnel remain at power plants and operations centers to ensure those facilities remain online during the crisis. Although the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has not issued any formal orders on the subject to date, most electric, gas and water utilities in Florida have voluntarily suspended late payment fees and disconnections for nonpayment of services at this point in time. The Florida Department of Management Services has restricted public access to the PSC offices to help minimize COVID-19 exposure, effective through April 19, 2020.

Counties

Many counties and municipalities have published their own emergency orders. As examples, Alachua County has implemented employee screening protocols for restaurant and child care facility employees. Bay County has closed its beaches. Broward County has closed all nonessential retail and commercial businesses. Hillsborough County has prohibited all public and private gatherings of 10 or more people. Miami-Dade has closed all congregate meals sites and community centers, prohibited groups of 10 or more in all parks, beaches or recreation facilities, banned the use of mopeds, motorized scooters and motorized bikes on public streets and sidewalks, closed its beaches, closed all nonessential retail, prohibited rafting and prohibited lodging rentals for nonessential lodgers. Nassau County has closed its beaches to camping or vehicular traffic, and limited groups to 10 people or less. Orange County and Osceola County have implemented curfews between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Holland & Knight cares about our clients and the difficulties that they face tracking and processing fast-moving developments in Tallahassee and around the state relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19). This Holland & Knight alert aggregates Florida developments and will be updated on a regular basis. Please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and that the subject matter discussed in these publications may change on a daily basis.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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Updated: May 25, 2018:

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