Florida Lawmakers Move to Block City Straw Bans

(CN) – As several Florida cities try to take the plastic drinking straws out of residents’ frozen cocktails, state lawmakers have other ideas.

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Florida Senate passed a bill prohibiting local governments from banning single-use plastic straws. The measure, which puts a moratorium on ordinances regulating plastic straws until 2024, now heads to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for his signature before becoming law.

Since 2012, when Miami Beach passed an ordinance banning beaches and beachside restaurants from giving guests plastic straws, 10 other coastal cities approved their own rules regulating straws. Some cities only prohibit restaurants and bars from providing plastic straws while others also ban people from bringing them to public beaches and parks.

These efforts mirror those in other places across the country like Seattle and California, which passed a law last year that prohibits restaurants from giving customers a straw unless they specifically request one.  

Companies like American Airlines and Starbucks also plan to phase out plastic straws.

Proponents of the straw bans point to the overwhelming amount of plastic ending up in the world’s oceans – more than 8 million tons a year, according to a 2015 study – and the dangers to fish, sea turtles and other wildlife, who pass the plastic through the food chain.

In the Sunshine State, plastic straws are among the fifth most common type of trash found on beaches, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which rolled out its “Skip the Straw” campaign earlier this year.

After the Florida House approved the bill prohibiting city straw bans last week, Senator Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, added language to his larger bill dealing with municipal recycling contracts. The bill also calls for a study of the “data and conclusions” used by municipalities when adopting their local ordinances.

“The technology for replacing [plastic straws] is just not there,” Perry said during debate on the Senate floor, referencing Starbucks’ recall of stainless steel straws in 2016.

He also mentioned cases of children choking on paper straws and difficulties for disabled individuals in using plastic alternatives.

But Democrats pushed back on the measure.

“Five years is far too long for those who have taken the necessary steps to enact these ordinances,” Senator Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said of the five-year moratorium. “Five years is far too long to wait if the science comes back next week or next year.”

Senator Kevin Rader called the preemption of local ordinances “awful public policy.”

“You would have to be blind to not be able to see in our society … what plastic does to our environment, to our species, to our oceans,” said the Democrat from Delray Beach, which passed its own plastic straw ban earlier this year.

In the end, the Senate bill passed 24-15, mostly along partisan lines.

State lawmakers, long opposed to local ordinances that take away their power, unsuccessfully tried to stop the plastic straw bans in past legislative sessions.

But they have successfully blocked local regulations prohibiting single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam and smoking on the beach.

Earlier in the legislative session, Senator Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, filed a bill to forbid cities like Key West from enforcing rules limiting the sale of certain types of sunscreen harmful to the state’s last coral reefs. That bill has yet to reach the Senate floor.

The Legislature also passed a bill Wednesday that would allow teachers to volunteer to carry a gun with the approval of their local school district. 

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