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Florida bill was aimed at banning plastic straws. Now it does the opposite.

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In July, bartenders picked up 437 straws along a two-block stretch of Miami Beach. While that city is expanding its ban on plastic straws, Islamorada has decided against a ban and will simply discourage their use. DAVE DOEBLER

The Senate Commerce and Tourism committee approved a bill Monday that, instead of taking aim at plastic straw use, sets up a study to look at the effects of the plastic utensils. It also puts a five-year moratorium on local plastic straw bans.

The amended bill, introduced by committee member Sen. Travis Hutson, now sets up a study to be carried out by the Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments would not be able to ban plastic straws until 2024.

An earlier version of the bill would have required restaurants and other eateries to only give out plastic straws at the request of a customer. 

"I realized that I was kind of putting my own thoughts into this .. it was government overreach," the Elkton Republican said. "So what I did was file an amendment that would put a moratorium but give us a study." 

Under the current bill, a local government that violates the rule would be fined $25,000 fine.

In 2008, the Legislature enacted a similar law requiring DEP to analyze “the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments.”

To date, the Legislature has not yet adopted any recommendations contained in the report.

Campaigns to eliminate plastic straws in Florida have popped up in recent years. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched a “Skip the Straw” campaign earlier this year, and cities like Coral Gables, St. Petersburg, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale have passed regulations about the plastic utensils.

In February 2016 Coral Gables voted to ban the use of Styrofoam containers even after the Florida Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities from banning the polystyrene products.

That summer, the city was sued by the Florida Retail Federation, Inc. and Super Progreso Inc., who alleged that the ordinance was preempted by state statute. The courts ruled that the ordinance was “valid and enforceable.”

Jennifer Rubiello, of St. Petersburg-based Environment Florida, said by putting a stay on plastic bans, the state is allowing everyday items plastic straws to threaten Florida's premier wildlife and waterways.

"As a state surrounded by water on three sides, we should be leading the nation in moving away from single-use plastics rather tying the hands of local governments who want to protect wildlife and the health of their communities from pollution," she said. 

Holly Parker-Curry of the Surfrider Foundation agreed.

"If you stop and clean a beach for five minutes, you’ll have a bag full of straws. The impact is already very clear and very established," she said. "We don’t need a study, we need action."

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