Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that the state of Florida is suing the federal government over a failure to lift restrictions on cruise ships as the U.S. stages its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first issued a no-sail order on March 14, 2020, and the agency continues to have restrictions in effect until at least November 2021.
"Despite the virus, and those who would lock down society indefinitely, people are traveling again. They are doing so safely with protective measures like vaccines, sanitation, and social distancing," the lawsuit says, pointing to how more than 1.5 million people traveled by air in the U.S. on April 5, with hotels, restaurants, and theme parks reopening.
"But as these industries begin to restart and rebuild, the cruise industry has been singled out, and unlike the rest of America, prevented from reopening," the complaint says, claiming that the cruise industry "is on the brink of financial ruin."
The lawsuit alleges that the CDC lacks the authority to shut down the cruise industry, and that even if it has the power to do so, its decision violated the Administrative Procedure Act for being "arbitrary and capricious" and for not going through the standard notice and comment period.
The CDC technically lifted the no-sail order in October 2020, but the complaint claims that in practice it remains in effect through a conditional sailing order that is effective until Nov. 1, 2021. That order only allows cruise ships to sail if their companies complete a four-phase process that includes setting up lab testing of onboard crew in U.S. waters, simulated test voyages meant to see if they can mitigate infections, a certification process, and then finally "a return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates the risk of COVID-19."
According to the lawsuit, no cruise line has even started the second phase.
"We are not going to sit back while an administrative agency decides to shut down an entire industry," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said during a Thursday news conference.
The lawsuit names the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the CDC, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky as defendants. Neither agency immediately responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
DeSantis, speaking at the news conference, said that while Florida’s unemployment rate is below the national average, Dade County’s rate is higher mainly because of the no-sail order. The lawsuit states that in 2019 the cruise industry provided for nearly 159,000 jobs in Florida that paid a total income of $8.1 billion.
"This is not reasonable, this is not rational," the governor said.
The governor warned that if the CDC does not lift its order despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and antibody treatment, people will simply fly to the Bahamas to cruise instead of spending their money in Florida.
"We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data," DeSantis said, "and I think we have a good chance for success."
Fox News' Kelly Laco contributed to this report.