Why won't Florida ban plastic bags?

By Christine Kane

Once again the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) and the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (FPMA) have succeeded in making sure that the state preempts local governments from having the ability to regulate plastic, paper bags, and polystyrene. Legislation has been proposed the past several years which would allow municipalities that right, or, at the very least, allow certain municipalities to institute pilot programs. Each time the proposed legislation has died in committee.

Interestingly, the 2017 Legislative Agenda for the FRF and FPMA has, as its first priority under General Retail Business to support “Retain Preemptions: We support current Florida laws that require regulation of plastic, paper bags, and polystyrene at the state level and preempt local regulations.” The two organizations adopted this legislative agenda based on feedback solely from its members and it was voted on by them. On their website they state that “passing legislation that will benefit our members and strengthen Florida’s retail industry” is one of the things that they are proud of. 

Many municipalities have passed resolutions calling on the state to pass legislation allowing them to have the right to pass their own laws on this subject. Obviously, the state has other ideas. The state has the right to pass legislation which would regulate the issue. That would make this whole issue moot. 

In 2008 the Governor signed into law a requirement that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEC) complete a thorough analysis on whether the state should have a state-wide bag ban. That law also prohibited any local government from passing a law dealing with plastic bags until the DEC filed its report and the government was able to take action. The DEC has since filed its report and years have passed with no action on the part of the state. 

We’ve written – we’ve called – we’ve visited our state representatives asking that they support this legislation, all to no avail. There are petitions on line and petitions being hand carried. Lobbying groups such as the ones mentioned previously are throwing a lot – a whole lot – of money at this issue to ensure that no bans are passed. I’m at a loss as to what we need to do that we’re not already doing.

Lobbying groups such as the ones mentioned previously are throwing a lot – a whole lot – of money at this issue to ensure that no bans are passed.

What about Coral Gables, Florida? Coral Gables recently became the first city in the state to ban plastic bags, but it’s a unique case. In 1956 the Florida Constitution was amended to allow for a Home Rule Charter. Dade County was granted the power to, among other things, pass ordinances, create penalties, etc. to support a centralized metropolitan form of government. The Home Rule Charter for Miami-Dade County was adopted by referendum in May 1957 which predates the 1968 State Constitution revision which radically altered home rule. Coral Gables falls within Miami-Dade County which is why it was able to prevail.

Here I have to mention one thing that I say to citizens whenever I speak about this issue – we do not need the state to mandate that we don’t use plastic bags or polystyrene – we can do this on our own. 

Let's use the power we have. It's time to cultivate a new habit and stop using disposable plastics and Styrofoam. We can’t wait forever.

Florida resident Christine Kane retired from local NYS government in 2010. With a passion for the environment, she is working to ban plastic bags in the state of Florida.

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