Florida county commissioners seek to reclaim delegated emergency response powers

The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners on July 21 unanimously approved a draft order that would dissolve the county’s Emergency Policy Group (EPG) and return its delegated emergency response authority—including the authority to respond to the coronavirus pandemic—to the county commissioners.

The EPG, which consists of three county commissioners, the sheriff, the chair of the Hillsborough County Public Schools Board of Education, and the mayors of Tampa, Plant City, and Temple Terrace, currently exercises emergency response authority delegated by the county commissioners. The EPG was created with the goal of addressing short-term emergencies, such as hurricanes, but the group has also directed the county’s coronavirus response efforts, including mask mandates and curfews.

Board Chairman Les Miller (D) on July 15 proposed amending the EPG’s orders to return the group’s delegated coronavirus response authority to the board of county commissioners. As the county’s elected legislative body, the commissioners agreed that the board was the appropriate government entity to manage the long-term pandemic response. Though some commissioners expressed concern about changing strategies mid-pandemic, all supported the change.

Following Miller’s proposal to repeal the EPG’s coronavirus response authority, county employees recommended that the board eliminate the group altogether (Hillsborough County is the only Florida county with an EPG or similar group). The board on July 21 unanimously approved a draft order to repeal the EPG. A public hearing and a final vote are scheduled for August 5.

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