The bill that would nullify Key West’s voter-approved cruise ship reductions is making its way through the Florida House of Representatives and its committees. The bill already passed three state senate committees and, on April 19, passed the House Commerce Committee.
The committee voted 13-5 to support House Bill 267, which prohibits the port of Key West from restricting maritime activity based on the size, type or capacity of ships.
During Monday’s 90-minute debate, the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Spencer Roach of the Fort Myers area, and Rep. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, said the creators of Key West’s local referendum “are engaging in economic elitism in an attempt to remake Key West in the mold of Martha’s Vineyard,” adding that the Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships is trying to cherry-pick the type and wealth of tourists who visit Key West.
State Rep. Bob Rommel, a Republican who represents part of Collier County, said, “It sounds like Key West is trying to discriminate against a certain type of tourist.”
On the other hand, representatives who opposed the state bill questioned the propriety of the state dismissing the will of local voters.
“Is it the position of the bill’s sponsors that local government should not be able to decide how much is too much in their own backyard in terms of tourism and cruise ships?” Rep. Joe Geller , Democrat of Aventura, asked.
Roach and Sirois also told the committee the local referendums “set a dangerous precedent that could have severe economic impacts.”
A representative of the Sierra Club called the state bill “an anti-environment, government overreach bill.”
The bill’s next House committee hearing will be determined later this week.
Leaders of the Safer Cleaner Ships committee, which orchestrated the Key West referendums, posted on its Facebook page that the addition of the cruise ship issue to the House Commerce Committee agenda was done with just a half-day’s notice, thus preventing a Key West contingent from speaking against the bill in Tallahassee, which 19 of them did last week during a state senate committee vote. When the senate version of the bill passed the last senate committee, the Safer Cleaner Ships representatives, including Key West Mayor Teri Johnston, demonstrated outside of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill if it passes both chambers of the state legislature.