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Local Florida sunscreen bans blocked by Florida lawmakers

Florida lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday that prevents local governments from regulating any over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics - like sunscreen.
Clearwater Beach lifeguard Ashley Rossi fights off the sun by applying sunscreen every hour during her shifts.
Clearwater Beach lifeguard Ashley Rossi fights off the sun by applying sunscreen every hour during her shifts.
Published Mar. 10, 2020
Updated Mar. 11, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — When the Key West City Commission voted last year to ban the sale of sunscreens that could harm the coral reef, they celebrated.

But the law won’t go into effect in January 2021, as scheduled, if the governor signs the bill into law.

Florida lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday that prevents local governments from regulating any over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics.

That, of course, includes sunscreen.

The House voted 68-47 on the Senate version of a bill, sending it to the governor’s desk for approval.

Republican Reps. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven, Holly Raschein, R-Marathon and Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami, broke with their party and voted against the bill.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has said the proposal comes from Key West’s decision to ban sunscreens with octinoxate and oxybenzone, which studies show have been linked to coral bleaching.

Key West was the first place on the mainland U.S. to approve such a sunscreen ban. Hawaii was the first state to do so in 2018.

Throughout the process, the bill sponsors have noted only “a small number” of studies have shown negative effects from sunscreen ingredients on corals and marine life.

Bradley has called such studies “junk science.”

Rep. Ralph Massullo, who is a dermatologist, cited Florida’s skin cancer numbers as a reason for needing all types of sunscreen to be available. He said there should be more studies on the effects on coral reefs before bans can be implemented.

“By banning sunscreen, we will be threatening lives,” the Lecanto Republican said.

But opponents say the bill is a “gross overreaction.”

“The science on this matter is not junk science,” said Rep. Javier Fernandez. “What do we have to warrant such a heavy-handed preemption?”

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston said lawmakers are “ill-suited” to run preemption bills that affect local governments they are not familiar with.

“If the Senator would have spent one weekend down in Key West, he could have seen the impact on our coral reef,” she said. “It’s a really, really bad move and poorly thought out .

The effort is already being addressed on the federal level, Johnston noted, lead by U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, who visits Key West about four times a year.

Mucarsel-Powell and U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Naples, filed legislation to ban use of oxybenzone and octinoxate near coral reefs in the National Marine Sanctuary System, including the Great Florida Reef found off the coast of the Florida Keys.

Local control issues have friends in statewide Republicans, too.

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis flexed his veto power for the first time on a preemption bill that would bar local governments from banning plastic straws. He declined to sign the bill, citing the importance of local control.

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