Keys-backed bag-ban bill bogs down again

A bill to allow local rules on disposable plastic bags, endorsed by the Monroe County Commission, failed in the Florida Legislature’s 2017 session.
A bill to allow local rules on disposable plastic bags, endorsed by the Monroe County Commission, failed in the Florida Legislature’s 2017 session. Keynoter

Florida Keys elected officials have been seeking the ability to curtail the use of disposable plastic bags for years, but the latest bid to get a bag ban bogged down again in the Florida Legislature’s 2017 session.

Monroe County Commission members have voted three straight years to ask legislators for the right to create a pilot program that would seek to reduce the number of bags that are discarded or escape from trash bins, winding up along streets, in trees and in the ocean.

Islamorada Village Council members have adopted a similar resolution, and the city of Key West actively promotes use of reusable shopping bags. Even some large Keys businesses have endorsed limits on the bags’ availability. Winn-Dixie on Big Pine Key took a lead on that.

Aside from being unsightly, “single-use plastic bags are detrimental because they do not fully degrade in our oceans or land environment, and they introduce unsafe chemicals into our environment; and single-use plastic bags create the potential for death of land and marine animals through entanglement and ingestion,” a county resolution says.

A Florida law passed in 2008 says local government and state agencies cannot “enact any rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding use, disposition, sale, prohibition, restriction, or tax of such auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags....”

The latest state bill seeking to “authorize a coastal community with a population of fewer than 100,000 people to establish a pilot program to regulate or ban disposable plastic bags” did not come close to passage. It “was heard in only one Senate committee, and not heard by House at all,” says a staff report to county commissioners at their June meeting.

As always, Monroe County’s legislative priority list came out as a mixed bag. Other issues of Keys concern:

▪ The Keys were appropriated $13.3 million for assorted water projects like flood control, canal restoration and wastewater under state Rep. Holly Raschein’s Florida Keys Stewardship Act. County officials were hoping for $25 million, but $5 million was lost when the Florida Forever land conservation program received no money. No other county received more than the $13.3 million for water projects.

▪ Bills seeking to limit local regulations on several issues failed to pass, which was considered a win for home rule. Proposals included requiring a 60 percent approval, rather than a majority, in a referendum on a local-option sales tax in some situations.

▪ Florida counties, including Monroe, lost a fight against a “wireless facilities” bill that passed. The law curtails local governments’ ability to stop the installation of “small” cellular towers or adding cell support gear to existing utility poles in the right of way along roads. Rent for annual use of the cell structures was capped at $150 per year.

▪ A recommendation from a state panel to reduce the number of county judges from four to three in Monroe County was ignored, to the relief of the local legal community.

▪ A bill seeking a statewide ban on controversial fracking techniques to capture nature gas died when it never came to a full vote in either legislative body.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206