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Lawmakers block straw bans, in another move to limit local control

Currently, 10 cities across the state, including St. Petersburg, have rules governing the use of plastic straws, which have drawn environmental concerns.
Straws. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
Straws. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published May 1, 2019|Updated May 1, 2019

The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed an environmental bill that includes prohibiting local governments from enforcing regulations on plastic straws over the next five years.

On a 24-15 vote, the Senate imposed a moratorium on plastic-straw bans, the latest example of the constant tug-of-war between the Legislature and cities and counties over local regulations.

The decision to pass the bill also followed numerous failed attempts by lawmakers over the years to prevent plastic-straw bans. Currently, 10 cities across the state, including St. Petersburg, have rules governing the use of plastic straws, which have drawn environmental concerns.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman sent out a tweet Wednesday saying the city’s businesses and residents don’t need lawmakers’ permission to reduce how much plastic they use.

“Plastic straws, bags should be phased out in FL,” the tweet said. “You don’t need to do a study to understand the harm plastic does. But St. Pete gonna St. Pete regardless of any preemption. Our business owners and residents get it and will do right.”

The House passed the bill (House Bill 771) last week, meaning it is now ready to head to Gov. Ron DeSantis. If he signs the bill (House Bill 771), local governments would not be able to enforce any ordinance banning plastic straws until July 2024.

The vote Tuesday in the Republican-controlled Senate was largely along party lines. Democrats Lauren Book of Plantation, Randolph Bracy of Orlando and Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach crossed party lines to vote for the bill, while Republican George Gainer of Panama City opposed it.

Under the bill, the research arm of the Legislature would also be required to conduct a study of “each ordinance or regulation adopted” by local governments related to single-use plastic straws. A report of the study would need to be submitted by December to Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.

Rather than focusing on the environmental impacts of local plastic-straw bans, the study would focus on the “data and conclusions” used in adopting local ordinances.

This has irked environmental groups, which argue that sufficient evidence already exists that plastic pollution is detrimental to the environment. When lawmakers considered the proposal in committee hearings, groups often brought up a study by the World Economic Forum that said there will be more plastic by weight than fish in oceans by 2050.

State lawmakers have also taken aim at other local regulations that were enacted to protect the environment. One of those efforts is in a bill by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine. That bill targets local ordinances that restrict the sale and use of sunscreens containing certain chemicals that studies have found to damage coral reefs.

The bill passed Tuesday by the Senate includes other issues along with the moratorium on plastic-straw bans. It also deals with issues related to recyclable materials.


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