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Bill doesn’t lift prohibition on plastic bag bans but allows pilot programs

A pilot program is a small step — but it is a step forward nonetheless, critics of disposable plastic shopping bags said Wednesday.

A Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that allows coastal communities to create a 2-1/2-year pilot program to regulate or ban plastic bags.

Critics say plastic bags become litter that choke waterways and often are eaten by sea turtles and other marine life because they look like jellyfish.

California enacted a statewide ban in 2014. Tthe Florida Legislature, though, in 2008 prohibited cities and counties from enacting local regulations on bags.

Under SB 966, coastal communities with fewer than 100,000 people could enact pilot programs between Dec. 31, 2015, and June 30, 2016. They must collect data on the effects of the regulations or bans and provide reports to the state.

“We wanted to bring forward a reasonable compromise that allowed us to collect data,” Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, told Floridapolitics.com.

In 2014, Bullard filed a bill (SB 830) to lift the ban on local regulations. But he asked for the bill to be temporarily passed in a committee to avoid having it voted down in the face of opposition from business groups.

On Wednesday, representatives of coastal cities and environmental groups said the pilot programs are needed while the state prohibition on local regulations remains in place.

“This bill is a small but important step in the right direction,” said Holly Parker, Florida regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation.

Groups supporting the bill include Sierra Club Florida, the One Florida Foundation, the League of Women Voters, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Representatives of Brevard and Miami-Dade counties also expressed support along with the cities of St. Petersburg, Hallandale Beach and Fernandina Beach.

Groups opposing the bill included the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Samantha Padgett, representing the Florida Retail Federation, said her group wants stores to have the choice of which bags to offer consumers. She said Florida has two plastic bag manufacturers now, but the bill could discourage others from bringing jobs here.

“What message does it send if we say, ‘We like your location (in Florida), but we don’t like your product’?” Padgett said. “We just caution you on what message that sends.”

SB 966 has a long way to go before it could pass the Legislature and be signed into law. SB 966 has two more committee stops with time running out in the session while its House companion, HB 661, hasn’t yet been heard in a committee.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.

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