St. Petersburg still mulls plastic bag ban. But it's in no hurry.

The City of St. Petersburg is considering a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
The City of St. Petersburg is considering a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jan. 26, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The proposed ban on single-use plastic bags is still on the table for City Council. But the city isn't ready to act just yet. Officials are still surveying the public and businesses to find out what they think and are also waiting to learn the fate of an existing ban in Coral Gables.

"For it to work, it really needs to have buy-in," City Council member Darden Rice said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Petersburg considers ban on plastic bags, but it won't be easy (July 27, 2017)

In 2008 the Florida Legislature pre-empted local attempts to ban the bags by prohibiting local governments from banning them. In May, the City of Coral Gables tested the waters by approving a ban on plastic bags and fining retailers $50 to $500 who violate the ban.

The measure is being challenged by the Florida Retail Federation and a Coral Gables business in the 3rd District Court of Appeal on the grounds of pre-emption, that the state already banned what the city did in 2008.

St. Petersburg assistant city attorney Michael Dema told the council members meeting Thursday as the health, energy, resiliency and sustainability committee that they expect a decision in the Coral Gables case to be made in the next few months.

"It's something the city attorney's office would like to get some guidance on that case," he said. "In the meantime, the ongoing data collection efforts and outreach … will keep the ball rolling as we get some answers here."

Rice wondered if St. Petersburg really needs to wait for the 3rd DCA.

"A concern is that if we wait too long, we could lose an opportunity to enact our own bag ban," she said.

She wants the city to soon draft an ordinance that is "flexible enough that we could tweak based on feedback from commercial interests (but) still get something on the books?"

Dema said the city doesn't have to wait for a legal ruling.

"We don't have to do what Coral Gables did," he said. "Even if there's an adverse decision down there, if we differentiate from what they did ... I think something that fits St. Pete and not just taking from Coral Gables as a model is a good thing."

Florida Retail Federation communications director James Miller reiterated his organizations opposition to such a ban to the Tampa Bay Times.

"We disagree with local government telling retailers what they can or can't use to serve their customers," Miller said.

Single-use plastic bags cost retailers very little, he said. Switching to something different could cost them significantly more.

"It definitely would hurt smaller retailers significantly," Miller said. "If you're a mom and pop shop just trying to get by … it's going to impact the bottom line."

Sharon Wright, the city's sustainability director, said any decision the council makes would need to include a transition period so the city can help businesses find alternatives. She suggested the city could consider helping businesses through bulk purchasing.

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Contact Divya Kumar at Follow @divyadivyadivya.