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State may ban local bee laws

Local governments would no longer have the right to restrict beekeeping under a proposal that advanced in the Senate today.

Senate bill 1132 would leave the bee laws up to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which already requires beekeepers to register their hives and submit to annual inspections.

The bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture with a unanimous vote.

Proponents of the measure argue that local governments can unknowingly wreak havoc because they do not have the bee expertise to regulate the state’s $13 million industry.

Florida is the fifth largest honey-producer in the country, said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, the bill’s sponsor.

Local laws tend to be “a knee-jerk reaction of a neighbor’s complaint,” Hays said.

For example, the city of Sarasota and other well-intentioned local governments banned beekeeping, which has led to an influx of the more aggressive Africanized bees.

Beekeeping was illegal in Hillsborough County until late last year, when the Commission lifted the ban and placed restrictions on bee farmers--such as requiring that they ask their neighbors for permission.

Most beekeepers are recreational, having five or six hives and giving away honey as gifts to their neighbors. But large, commercial producers are also scattered anywhere that has orange groves, said Gary Ranker, president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association.

Opposition to the bill was vague, although Ryan Matthews, with the Florida League of Cities, said local areas should be allowed to decide who they want to protect—beekeepers or concerned neighbors.

The bill would place bee farms under the Florida Right to Farm Act, which aims to protect the farm industry from lawsuits and excessive rules.

Tom Nolan, spokesperson for the Florida State Beekeepers Association, said his organization took a survey of beekeepers and found that 73 percent favored uniform statewide laws.

“What we have going on right now is a crazy patchwork of regulation,” he said.