Governor didn’t get sucked into plastic straw protection
Gov. Ron DeSantis advanced both cleaner environment and more rational government last week when he vetoed legislation to clamp a state chokehold on local regulation of plastic drinking straws.
A bill that was intended to reduce use of plastic straws had been so warped in state legislation that it would instead have virtually prevented local regulation of straws that are an environmental pollutant. Hours after the measure hit his desk, the governor vetoed it.
His rationale offered guidelines that the legislature would do well to heed:
■Follow the recommendations of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which “has encouraged Florida residents, schools and businesses to reduce plastic straw use.”
■Allow local governments to enact legislation as their elected officials deem correct if the legislation doesn’t conflict with state law.
He might well have added a third dictum:
■Don’t insert impractical hurdles into a law that have the impact of frustrating any ability to achieve its original intent.
Across the state and the nation, municipalities large and small have recently limited use of, or banned outright, plastic straws. Walk any Florida beach and you’ll see why – the sands are littered with straws, they don’t decompose and they end up not only as visual pollution but killing marine life.
On California coastal cleanup days from 1988 to 2016 the sixth-most collected items were plastic straws, according to a Los Angeles report. There’s reason to believe we’d find much the same in Florida if we bothered to sort the trash.
And it’s not just coastal. Look along roads and highways, in parks and in other public spaces: plastic straws are everywhere.
Given the environmental and visual pollution, it’s hardly surprising that governments want to limit or ban plastic straws. Los Angeles prohibits any restaurant or fast-food site from giving them to diners unless they are requested – and restaurants are barred from asking if customers want to request them.
Closer to home, 10 Florida communities including Miami Beach, Coral Gables and Fort Lauderdale have total or partial plastic straw bans, with most targeting use in public places.
The state legislation sent to the governor would have outlawed those or other local plastic straw bans for at least five years.
To make such bans virtually impossible after five years, the bill would have required each local action against plastic straws to undergo a state Department of Environmental Protection probe focused on the “data and conclusions” the municipality used to support its vote, and then submit each measure to the speaker of the House and president of the Senate to act on.
Forcing individual technical studies would have made plastic straw legislation too costly for most cities to enact. And, if any measure was enacted, the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate would then be positioned to kill it. What foolishness. The legislation might well have been written by the plastics industry.
Throughout the state, municipalities daily pass dozens of ordinances. How many do you think required a local study based on data and conclusions? Any at all?
The governor saw through this smokescreen and vetoed the measure. His rationale: a plastic straw ban doesn’t get in the way of the state and it’s within local powers. Plus, anyone who doesn’t like it can work to elect new local leaders to reverse the action.
Absolutely right: let local officials act within their power and rights and, if you don’t like the results, vote them out. Get the state out of the way of local progress. “The state should simply allow local communities to address this through the political process,” Gov. DeSantis said.
We couldn’t agree more: if the state didn’t act globally, let cities act locally.
Think of the dictum: lead, follow, or get out of the way. The bill as written simply inserted insurmountable state hurdles into local governance: go get a study first, and then let the state make the final decision. That was getting into the way, not out of it.
The state should not needlessly impede exercise of municipal powers – in this case, the power to protect our environment.