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  1. Opinion

Carlton: Lawmakers couldn't care less what you want for your city

A gull carries a plastic straw on Clearwater Beach. And your lawmakers in Tallahassee are apparently okay with this. [JIM DAMASKE | Times] (2018)]
Published May 6

The other day on a Florida beach south of us, a young dolphin in great distress washed ashore. After she was euthanized, biologists discovered her belly was filled with trash, including two plastic bags and a shredded balloon.

While the reason for her stranding has yet to be determined, the sad story from Fort Myers Beach highlights the growing problem of throw-away plastic bags, bottles and straws. A World Economic Forum study estimates that by 2050, we'll have more of it in our oceans by weight than fish.

So it makes sense that some Florida cities — particularly near our gulf and Atlantic coasts — have taken action against the platoons of plastic polluting the waters, threatening wildlife and ending up in landfills.

Down in Coral Gables, stores are not allowed to pack your groceries in single-use plastic bags and somehow, life goes on.

Here at home, progressive St. Petersburg has been busy phasing in a ban on restaurants and cafes handing out plastic straws through an ordinance passed last year.

To which your Florida Legislature just said:

Who cares what cities want for themselves?

We know what's best for everyone.

We got your home rule right here.

In just their latest obnoxious pre-emptive power grab, lawmakers in Tallahassee passed a bill that says local governments around our state can't ban plastic straws for the next five years.

Oh, don't worry — in the meantime, they've ordered the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, insert joke here, to do a study of such ordinances around Florida and, you know, get back to them.

A similar moratorium against our cities and counties banning plastic bags already exists, though everyone's waiting to see where the courts come down on that regarding the rule in Coral Gables.

So to summarize, your elected officials have yet again decided for you regardless of the personality and sensibilities unique to where you live, instead siding with the likes of the Florida Retail Federation.

And why exactly shouldn't cities be allowed to decide for themselves what's right for the people in them?

"Our coastal economy is vital to the success of our state," says St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, who championed the straw issue. "You would think everyone would want to do all we can to protect that."

You would think.

At the news of the ban banning bans, Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted this: "Plastic straws, bags should be phased out in FL. 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."

And maybe that's the good news beyond short-sighted and greedy lawmakers.

Dozens of St. Pete businesses appear to be all-in for getting rid of straws. At the chamber of commerce, locally made pouches that carry reusable straws and a handy cleaner are sold. And if you have experienced St. Pete's particular vibe, you would not be surprised.

Driscoll says what they've started is bigger than banning straws.

"We've started a conversation about real ways that people can reduce single use plastic. And I think we've gotten a lot of people thinking about those everyday choices they can make that are better for the environment."

"It's part of who we are," she says.

Good thing. Because clearly, Tallahassee couldn't care less.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com .

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