What Florida's decision to block plastic straw bans means for Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach
Coastal Keepers began the initiative in January and took its efforts to Sanibel City Council to consider an ordinance, along with Captains For Clean Water. (Grace Speas/News-Press)
Calling it "ridiculous and insulting," Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda sharply criticized the Florida Senate's passage of a bill that includes prohibiting municipalities from enforcing local bans on things including plastic straws and sunscreen ingredients for the next five years.
The body's moratorium came after many failed attempts over the years to prevent plastic-straw bans such as those Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach have enacted.
"It's a big home rule issue, and I'm very surprised our legislators are not supporting that," Cereceda said.
Her town is one of 10 municipalities statewide that have prohibited them, and she said they're looking to expand the ban to include single-use plastic bags.
Plastic pollution has become a heated issue, as whales and dolphins are more frequently turning up with bags and other trash in their bodies. When lawmakers considered the proposal in committee hearings, environmental groups cited a study by the World Economic Forum that said there will be more plastic by weight than fish in oceans by 2050.
In case you missed it:
- Florida lawmakers block plastic straw bans
- Controversy swirls around plastic straws, sunscreen bans
- SWFL cities starting to use paper straws at beaches, restaurants
- Dead deep-water dolphin calf's stomach held plastic bags, balloon
Last week, an emaciated dolphin calf euthanized after she became stranded on Fort Myers was found to have two plastic bags and a balloon fragment in her stomach.
State lawmakers have also taken aim at other local regulations enacted to protect the environment. One of those efforts is in a bill by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine. That bill targets local ordinances that restrict the sale and use of sunscreens containing certain chemicals that studies have found to damage coral reefs.
Cereceda said that’s an inappropriate overreach.
“Out town’s obligation is to protect our natural resources, and in my case, as the mayor of a barrier island, our biggest natural resource is our aquatic environment,” she said. “For someone in Tallahassee to tell me they know how to do that better than those of us who are here with our feet on the ground is ridiculous and insulting.”
The move galls attorney and Sanibel City Councilman Jason Maughan as well.
“It’s a further assault on home rule and the rights of local communities to identify themselves as they see fit. We are an environmentally conscious island,” he said. “We’re a conservative city council, but we’re conservationists for sure and (the ban) passed unanimously."
When Maughan spoke to fellow islanders about the ban before the council vote, “nearly to a man and woman people supported it … The ultimate conservative value is home rule (so) my surprise as a conservative is that the Tallahassee legislators would be passing preemptive legislation. Nobody in Tallahassee has the right to tell the citizens to do something that has no effect on anyone outside of their community.”
What's more, he said, even before the ban, many island businesses had already voluntarily cut single-use plastic.
Bailey's General Store, for example, no longer supplies plastic bags and manager and part-owner Richard Johnson has encouraged 13-year-old Ella Thiele and her father, D.J. of Fort Myers in their quest to get them banned in Lee County.
If the bill passes, it would render their fight legally futile, but D.J. vows to keep fighting. The two are gathering signatures on a petition to show lawmakers how many people support their efforts. So far, nearly 700 have signed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis should veto it if the bill reaches his desk, Cereceda said. “My hope is the governor continues on with his positive water agenda.”
Fort Myers Beach plastic straw ban goes into effect