Court ruling could bag state ban on plastic-bag rules

Plastic bags such as this one can harm marine life.
Plastic bags such as this one can harm marine life. Keynoter

Efforts to keep disposable plastic bags out of Florida Keys waters could get a boost from an ongoing legal case filed by Coral Gables.

The City Commission of the Miami-Dade municipality has scheduled a vote for May 9 on a six-page ordinance that would mandate: “No retail establishment shall provide to any customer a single-use carry out plastic bag.”

Those are the handy holders used by grocery stores and other retailers but the bags often escape from garbage cans or are tossed as litter. Bags then wind up tangled in the boughs of trees, and in Keys protected waters where they can harm sea creatures large and small.

A state law enacted in 2008 effectively prohibits local regulation of the bags.

Previously, the Florida Retail Federation sued Coral Gables for banning Styrofoam. But a judge ruled in the city’s favor allowing the ban (though an appeal by the federation is pending). Having won that round, the city is now targeting plastic bags.

Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger has been following the Coral Gables issue.

“That door has not opened yet” for Monroe County, Shillinger said in an email Friday, “but the lock on the door knob has definitely been jiggled a bit.”

Current Florida law says No “local government, local governmental agency, or state government agency may enact any rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding use, disposition, sale, prohibition, restriction, or tax of such auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags....”

Attempts to modify the regulation ban, including bills introduced for the 2017 session of the Florida Legislature that is scheduled to end this week, have not made headway.

But in a ruling earlier this year on the Coral Gables lawsuit, Miami Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto said the 2008 state law includes a provision that the state Department of Environmental Protection produce a report by February 2010 on possible effects of local rules on disposable containers and bags.

With no report yet produced, Cueto said, Coral Gables can proceed. The Florida Retail Federation has appealed the decision; that case is pending.

“If this ruling is upheld by the [appeals court], then the door would open for Keys governments to legislate in this area,” Shillinger wrote.

In April, Monroe County commissioners passed a resolution declaring “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...”

The bags also cause an unsightly blemish on the scenic Keys and create unnecessary refuse that must be buried in landfills, it says. Commissioners did not specify any specific rules but asked for the ability to consider some.

Even some major Florida Keys retailers have endorsed some regulations as a way to cut down on the expense of providing plastic bags. Several years ago, Winn-Dixie on Big Pine Key joined local groups in urging people to find alternatives to its plastic bags.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206