By Samantha J. Gross
Gov. Ron DeSantis flexed his veto power for the first time Friday night, declining to sign an environmental bill that would have prohibited local governments from banning plastic straws for the next five years.
In his veto letter to Secretary of State Laurel Lee, he said municipalities that prohibit plastic straws have not "frustrated any state policy" or "harmed the state's interest."
Under the bill, a study of "each ordinance or regulation adopted" by local governments related to single-use plastic straws would have to be conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection and then submitted to Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.
The study would focus on the "data and conclusions" used in adopting local ordinances instead of the environmental impacts, which had irked environmental groups that argue that there's enough evidence of the effect of plastic pollution.
The bill initially was meant to ban plastic straws, but was heavily amended during a March committee meeting to do the opposite.
"The state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process," DeSantis wrote. "Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views."
DeSantis hinted strongly at his willingness to let cities ban plastic straws late last month during a visit to Key Biscayne to talk up efforts to create a greener Super Bowl in Miami next year.
Standing just behind the dunes on Crandon Beach, he said, "My general view is locals should make decisions and if you don't like them, you can vote someone else in."
"If they're doing things that infringe on people's constitutional freedoms or frustrate state policy, then that becomes something that can be ripe for state intervention," he said. "Unless I see it violating some other principle I usually just let people do that as they see fit."
In 2008, the Legislature enacted a similar law requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to analyze "the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments."
To date, the Legislature has not adopted any recommendations contained in the report, and campaigns to eliminate plastic straws in Florida have continued to pop up.
In February 2016, Coral Gables voted to ban the use of Styrofoam containers even after the Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities from banning the polystyrene products. That summer, the city was sued by the Florida Retail Federation Inc., and Super Progreso Inc., which alleged that the ordinance was preempted by state statute. The courts ruled that the ordinance was "valid and enforceable."
DEP launched its own "Skip the Straw" campaign earlier this year, and along with Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and St. Petersburg have restricted the use of plastic straws. Coral Gables and Miami Beach have also restricted the use of plastic stirrers.
Recalling how few vetoes were made during his 10-year career in the Legislature, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said the governor's veto meant a lot.
"I am very grateful," Gelber said Friday night. "Our residents want to strive to keep our environment as pristine as possible. I think the governor helped us today. Sometimes I think the Legislature does overreach on some of these issues and obviously, the governor thought so too."
In a video Gelber shared with lawmakers, he warned that the bill "would have a disastrous impact" on the environment and economy in Miami Beach.
"If our residents don't want a more pristine beachfront, they will elect different people," he said.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called DeSantis' position "refreshing," and thanked him for the veto.
"This is a victory not just for local control and home rule, but common sense as well as the environment," he said.
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.
(c)2019 Miami Herald