by John Haughey
Gov. Ron DeSantis cited a need for judicial restraint in January when he appointed three new Florida Supreme Court justices he said would strictly adhere to the state constitution and statutes as they are written.
DeSantis has now revealed he also has a dim view of legislative activism, issuing the first veto of his tenure in Tallahassee by rejecting a bill prohibiting local governments from banning single-use straws.
House Bill 711, passed by House 87-23 on April 25 and by the Senate, 24-15, four days later, would impose a five-year suspension of local bans of plastic straws.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Stuart, originally addressed recycling issues but later amendments attached the moratorium on straw bans, a proposal included in several of the 50-plus state preemption bills filed during the recently concluded session, including HB 1299, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myer, the so-called “Governmental Powers Preemption Train,” that died in committee.
“A number of Florida municipalities, including Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Miami Beach, have enacted ordinances prohibiting single-use plastic straws,” DeSantis wrote in a veto message released Friday night.
“These measures have not, as far as I can tell, frustrated any state policy or harmed the state’s interests,” he continued. “Under these circumstances, the state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process. Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views.”
If a first veto is symbolic in portent, then it would appear DeSantis does not share the Republican-controlled Legislature’s distrust of local government, at least not – as he reminded lawmakers in his veto message – when ideology and jurisdictional turf wars clash with state policy.
“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has encouraged Florida residents, schools and businesses to reduce plastic straw use,” DeSantis said, noting the amendments thwarted the bill’s initial design by adding a “moratorium on local regulation of single-use plastic straws until 2024.”
Less than 20 Florida cities have straw bans, according to the state’s analysis of the proposal. The state already preempts bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.
Key West’s ban on sunscreen to protect coral reefs was among “abuses” cited by Republican legislators prior to the session in filing more than 50 preemption proposals. None passed.
Momentum to prohibit plastic straw bans by local governments gained traction during committee hearings because of the insightful testimony offered by disability advocate Olivia Babis, who was born without arms, who said straw bans hurt those who need straws to drink.
“I don’t think pre-emption should be abused by the state,” Babis said during committee testimony. “But when we have a vulnerable population whose health and safety is being put at risk, that is a point when the state does need to intervene on behalf of that community.”
Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, was among those applauding DeSantis’ “surprise” veto, tweeting his thanks Saturday to the governor “for vetoing the plastic straw ban preemption bill. This is a victory for home rule and for cities like @StPeteFL that have taken action to protect our environment.”
HB 711 was one of eight bills that came across DeSantis’ desk Friday. He signed seven into law, including HB 7098, which will implement Amendment 7, approved in November, that grants death benefits for law-enforcement officers, firefighters, other first responders and military members who are killed while on duty.
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John Haughey is a reporter at Watchdog.org