Florida legislators really don’t like the idea of local governments banning plastic straws, a movement which has grown in recent years. They dislike it so much they voted to support two different proposals introduced in the House Business & Professions Subcommittee on Tuesday to block cities and county governments from ever banning straws.
One bill would fine any local government that banned straws $25,000, and the city or county would have to pay the attorney fees and costs for any entity that successfully sued over a local ordinance.
The movement to ban plastic straws stems from concerns about the dangers that plastic is doing to the planet. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans annually, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.
Several local governments have already passed ordinances banning plastic straws in recent years, including St. Petersburg, Miami, Fort Myers, Gainesville, Sanibel and Fort Myers. It’s a growing movement. Last summer the Starbucks coffeehouse chain announced it would phase out plastic straws at its 28,000 locations by 2020.
The bill also calls for the Department of Environmental Protection to study the environmental impact of single-use plastic straws. That prompted state Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Democrat from Broward County, to ask the bill sponsor why the state needs a study when there is already a section on the DEP website that encourages the public to take a pledge to “skip the straw.”
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Republican from Lake County, said the message was a “nice, friendly gesture,” but a far cry from a scientific study.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Association and Disability Rights Florida support the bill.
Paper straws are not a viable alternative for the disability community, said Olivia Babis with Disability Rights Florida. “Paper straws are a choking hazard,” she said.
Another bill, sponsored by state Rep. Spencer Roach, Republican from Lee County, would prohibit local governments from creating ordinances on a number of issues, including regulating plastic straws. Environmental groups oppose it.
“Our chapters do more beach cleanups than any other nonprofit out there, and I will tell you that in every single cleanup everywhere in the state, we come back with a fistful of single-use plastic straws,” said Holly Parker Curry, the Florida regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation.
The two bills received bipartisan support, with State Rep. Wengay Newton, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, supporting the Republicans on the committee. He questioned advocates who opposed the measures, saying if straws were so harmful, how come less than twenty local governments have passed bans?
Curry told him that it’s an emerging movement, and that more local governments would likely enact such ordinances in the future – but would be denied that opportunity if the legislation passes.