Bruce Ritchie: Florida won’t follow California on bag ban because of 2008 law requiring study

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California became the first state in the nation this week to ban disposable single-use plastic shopping bags.The ban is needed, supporters said, to reduce litter and protect birds and sea life from becoming entangled in bags. The ban also prevents bags from clogging storm drains or winding up in landfills.That new law prompted some pundits and others with environmental leanings to say that Florida and other states should take similar action. An online poll by WTSP-TV this week (with fewer than 100 respondents) found that 65 percent think Florida should ban plastic bags.

But that’s not going to happen, not without big changes in the Florida Legislature — and without changing a law adopted in 2008 that was intended to thwart such bag bans statewide or locally.

In 2008, HB 7135 passed with support from environmentalists along with then-Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat running for governor, and then-House Speaker Marco Rubio, now a Republican U.S. senator from Miami.

The bill required the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an analysis of the need for new regulations for disposable bags. And until DEP’s recommendations were “accepted” by the Legislature, there could be no statewide or local bans.

DEP issued a draft recommendation that called for taxing bags by up to 25 cents each and then banning them in 2015. But that recommendation was withdrawn after the Florida Retail Federation raised objections.

The final report issued in 2010 just outlined a list of recommendations. The Legislature never took action and the prohibition against banning plastic bags remains in place.

That shows how business and industry lobbyists can avoid a political fight in the Legislature and still kill an environmental initiative by simply requiring a study.

But the issue hasn’t completely gone away. Earlier this year, state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, introduced SB 830 to lift the prohibition at the request of elementary school students in Cutler Bay.

SB 830 would have allowed such bans to apply only to larger retail stores. And the bill would have allowed stores to charge customers up to 10 cents each for disposable paper bags.

Samantha Hunter Padgett of the Florida Retail Federation opposed the bill, saying it would create a “bag tax” and would cost jobs. She said her group instead supports a bag recycling awareness campaign.

Senators on the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation latched onto the “bag tax” concerns. They encouraged Bullard to postpone action to avoid a vote that would go against him.

Unlike paper bags, plastic bags do affect our waterways to the detriment of Floridas wildlife and other natural things, Bullard said before the vote was postponed. The reality is a paper bag stuck in a storm drain will ultimately dissipate in a shorter period of time than plastic bags will.

Some sources say it will take plastic bags as long as 1,000 years to break down in a landfill. Others say no one really knows how long it will take – or that it doesn’t matter once they’re in a landfill.

The question on my mind is whether the prohibition against local bag bans will still be in place whenever that occurs because state law will require that the Legislature adopt recommendations of a study a study that was completed in 2010.

Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments.com. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Author: Bruce Ritchie

Bruce Ritchie is a reporter covering environment, growth management and energy in Tallahassee and is editor of Floridaenvironments.com. He has covered environmental issues in Florida since 1993 previously for the Gainesville Sun, the Tallahassee Democrat and the Florida Current. He has written extensively about the fight over water among Alabama, Florida and Georgia and about pollution threats to Florida’s groundwater and springs. Bruce also covered state government in Alabama for United Press International and the Montgomery Advertiser. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Florida. Follow him on Twitter @bruceritchie or contact him at bruceBritchie@gmail.com or at 850-385-1774.