Plastic straws are out: Ron DeSantis vetoes prohibition of local straw bans

Further bolstering his environmental bona fides, DeSantis gave a full-throated defense to local bans on plastic straws.
EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
Straws sit behind the counter at Banyan Cafe in St. Petersburg on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Straws are now only available to customers who ask for them.
EVE EDELHEIT | Times Straws sit behind the counter at Banyan Cafe in St. Petersburg on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Straws are now only available to customers who ask for them.
Published May 10, 2019|Updated May 10, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis flexed his veto power for the first time late Friday, declining to sign an environmental bill that would have prohibited local governments from banning plastic straws for the next five years.

In his veto letter to Secretary of State Laurel Lee, he said municipalities who prohibit plastic straws have not “frustrated any state policy” or “harmed the state’s interest.”

Under the bill, a study of “each ordinance or regulation adopted” by local governments related to single-use plastic straws would have to be conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection and then submitted to Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.

RELATED COVERAGE: ‘No straws St. Pete’ sends a message: Stop using plastic straws

The Strawless City: St. Pete bans plastic straws, Styrofoam

Banning the ban? New bills aim to prevent cities from outlawing plastic straws

The study would focus on the “data and conclusions” used in adopting local ordinances instead of the environmental impacts, which had irked environmental groups that argue that there’s enough evidence of the effect of plastic pollution.

The bill initially was meant to ban plastic straws, but was heavily amended during a March committee meeting to do the opposite.

“The state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process,” DeSantis wrote. “Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views. “

DeSantis hinted strongly at his willingness to let cities ban plastic straws late last month during a visit to Key Biscayne to talk up efforts to create a greener Super Bowl in Miami next year.

Standing just behind the dunes on Crandon Beach, he said “My general view is locals should make decisions and if you don’t like them you can vote someone else in.”

“If they’re doing things that infringe on people’s constitutional freedoms or frustrate state policy then that becomes something that can be ripe for state intervention,” he said. “Unless I see it violating some other principle I usually just let people do that as they see fit.”

In 2008, the Legislature enacted a similar law requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to analyze “the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments.”

To date, the Legislature has not adopted any recommendations contained in the report, and campaigns to eliminate plastic straws in Florida have continued to pop up.

The veto upholds a ban approved by St. Petersburg’s City Council late last year on single-use plastic straws as well as expanded polystyrene, more commonly known by its brand name Styrofoam.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, a critic of the Legislature’s habit of limiting the powers of local governments and an ardent supporter of the straw ban, applauded the veto.

“This is a victory not just for local control and home rule, but common sense as well as the environment,” Kriseman said. “The governor’s position on this issue is refreshing and his explanation makes sense. I thank him for his veto of this bill.”

In February 2016, Coral Gables voted to ban the use of Styrofoam containers even after the Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities from banning the polystyrene products. That summer, the city was sued by the Florida Retail Federation Inc., and Super Progreso Inc., who alleged that the ordinance was preempted by state statute. The courts ruled that the ordinance was “valid and enforceable.”

The state’s Department Environmental Protection launched its own “Skip the Straw” campaign earlier this year, and cities like Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and St. Petersburg have passed regulations about plastic utensils.

Recalling how few vetoes were made during his 10-year career in the Legislature, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said the governor’s veto meant a lot.

“I am very grateful,” Gelber said Friday night. “Our residents want to strive to keep our environment as pristine as possible. I think the governor helped us today. Sometimes I think the Legislature does overreach on some of these issues and obviously, the governor thought so too.”

In a video Gelber shared with lawmakers, he warned that the bill “would have a disastrous impact” on the environment and economy in Miami Beach.

“If our residents don’t want a more pristine beachfront, they will elect different people,” he said.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.