First they came for straws, then plastic bags: state legislation going after local laws

Key West City Commissioner, District 5 - Florida Keys

It’s funny, almost. Florida legislators and Key West city officials are using the exact same argument on opposite sides of the issue to prove their point. Key West thought it had put the sunscreen topic to bed (coral bed, that is) with a 6-1 ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate starting January 2021. But State officials are trying to find ways to overturn it.

Key West’s argument is that harmful chemicals, not sunscreens, may kill off the coral reef and affect tourism. Without a reef to dive on, Key West will lose business. But Florida Sen. Travis Hutson says that banning these types of chemicals in sunscreens will also affect tourism, and Florida at large will lose business. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t want that brand to be changed from the Sunshine State to the melanoma capital of the world.” Despite the fact that two chemicals, not sunscreens themselves, were banned, Hutson’s argument is representative of anti-ban rhetoric.

Hutson has introduced SB 588, which would fine communities $25,000 that enforce any attempt to ban sunscreen. As of right now, Key West is the only Florida city with the ban, although Miami is considering the resolution.

“They are targeting us, when really we are just responding to the needs of our constituents.” said Commissioner Jimmy Weekley.

Lobbying for the bill will be Johnson and Johnson, makers of sunscreen, and Publix and Walmart, sellers. Welcome to a classic David versus Goliath battle, in which the stakes are: whose “business” is more important, the Key West local economy or large corporations with deep pockets?

“They are upset by the 6-1 vote and are going through the back door to change legislation,” said Weekley. “They have the money, we don’t . Maybe we can start a Go Fund Me page for Key West to pay the fine.”

It plays into a whole host of state legislation that is determined to clamp down on home rule. In the Florida House, HB 603 and HB 1299 would prevent local government from regulating distribution of plastic straws or even banning them, and there are several Florida cities that already have a ban in place. The argument here is that paper straws cost more for businesses (only a few cents) and laws should be uniform across the state. But laws aren’t uniform across the United States.

“They have the money, we don’t . Maybe we can start a Go Fund Me page for Key West to pay the fine.” —Key West Commissioner Jimmy Weekley

“It’s puzzling to me how the very legislators who complain about federal oversight are doing the same thing with state legislation,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers. “Local governments know more about what their municipalities need. It’s absurd to think we can all be on the same page.”

Both Weekley and Carruthers are also concerned with state legislation in the works aimed at taking away the affordable housing requirements for developers and new building projects. But they are thankful that legislation recently died that would have given the state jurisdiction over vacation rental laws.

“Every year we face pre-emption bills, but they may have set a record this year with how many,” said Carruthers. “It’s about home rule, meaning let us rule at home.” Now, that seems like good business.

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Hays Blinckmann is an oil painter, author of the novel “In The Salt,” lover of all things German including husband, children and Bundesliga. She spends her free time developing a font for sarcasm, testing foreign wines and failing miserably at home cooking.