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Plastic straws: The latest battleground for home rule defenders.

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Banning the bans: Legislation on plastic straws advances in House

Less than 20 Florida cities have ‘straw bans’ now.

The House Business and Professions Subcommittee advanced two bills that could stop cities from banning plastic straws.

A bill by Rep. Anthony Sabatini (HB 603) moved forward with a significant amendment. The Howey-in-the-Hills Republican’s legislation now includes a call for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to study plastic straw impacts.

Meantime, a bill by Rep. Spencer Roach (HB 1299) also was OK’d with an amendment specially pre-empting local government straw bans.

“We cannot simply afford anymore to have a patchwork regulatory framework,” said Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican. His bill also touches on sunscreen bans and other local regulations.

Both pieces of legislation drew opposition from environment groups.

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Holly Parker Curry, Florida regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said her organizations conducts beach clean-ups statewide. More than any other litter, volunteers find “fistfuls of single-use plastic straws,” she said.

And since the state already preempts bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, local governments have little other place to intervene.

“The state has failed to set standards and tied the hands of governments trying to do the right thing,” she said.

But there also was uncertainty over just how many localities have passed plastic straw bans: The Sierra Club reports about half a dozen. The Surfrider Foundation said 18.

Either way, Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said that doesn’t seem like much in a state with 412 municipalities.

“Why are there not more if this is such an epidemic?” he said, before supporting both preemption bills.

Straw ban supporters said the issue remains an emerging one, and cities should be allowed to lead the way toward solutions without fear of pre-emption.

But while environmentalists have concerns, disabled advocate Olivia Babis spoke in support of preemption. A former state Senate candidate born with no arms, Babis said she depends on straws.

Babis testified she’d like a requirement that restaurants keep straws on hand to serve disabled customers. No one should be allowed to ban them, she said.

“Municipalities are getting this wrong,” she said.

Sabatini, whose legislation initially called for complete pre-emption, came to committee with the amendment calling for a DEP study. His legislation now just would place a five-year moratorium on straw bans.

“Then we can look at the measurable effect on our environment,” he said.

Rep. Matt Willhite, a Palm Beach Democrat, noted that may mean a financial impact needs to be scored. Sabatini noted DEP absorbed a similar study on plastic bag impacts years ago.

As far as Roach’s bill, Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Broward Democrat, argued the governmental power legislation now bites off too much.

The bill now deals with straws, sunscreen, tobacco and other measures, sometimes regulating and other times pre-empting legislation.

“There is nothing here in close relationship to one another,” he said, suggesting the bill violates germanity rules.

Both pieces of legislation must next pass through the Commerce Committee before they can go to the House floor.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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